MANSFIELD -- The school year is rapidly approaching, and for some, that means back to school shopping: new clothes, a new backpack, new binders for every subject, and fresh-out-of-the-box pencils, highlighters, and crayons.
For others, the back-to-school season means wondering where all of this is coming from.
Altrusa International of Mansfield is here to change that.
Altrusa is an international nonprofit organization, and the Mansfield chapter focuses on literacy and education. The local chapter has 55 members and takes on several projects annually to aid the Mansfield community.
Currently, the Mansfield chapter of Altrusa has about 10 ongoing projects. The chapter’s biggest project is happening now: Tools for Schools.
The Tools for Schools project involves Altrusa members putting together school supplies for students in need. This is the 17th year of this project. Last year, Altrusa International of Mansfield provided 121,484 school supplies for students in the area.
Tools for Schools begins with the teachers. Teachers submit a request for how many items they need for the students they identify as being in need. Altrusa will package the supplies and send them to the teachers to distribute to the students.
Linda Williams, the Co-President of Altrusa International of Mansfield, spoke about how important this project is the chapter and to the students they are able to help. “If we can give them the tools they need for learning, they will be better prepared for the school year,” she said. “By giving them items like notebooks and pens, we are supporting their education, literacy and learning abilities.”
Tools for Schools takes place mostly through the summer months as teachers prepare for the upcoming school year, but it is a year-round project. This means teachers can submit requests for supplies any time there is a student need.
“We get the most requests at this time of year, but we get many over winter break as well. If binders wear down, notebooks fill up, students run out of pencils, or any supplies need replenished, we replace them at any point in the year,” said Williams.
While Tools for Schools is Altrusa International of Mansfield’s largest project every year, they are involved in many others that aid children’s literacy in other ways. Another project that began only last year is their Buddy Bags, which partners with the S.A.F.E. program in Mansfield City Schools.
S.A.F.E., or Student Achievement through Family Engagement, is a program that helps students that fit the federal definition of homeless. The program says that these students are in transition, and helps them with any obstacles to their education that they face in this transition period.
Phil Mitchell, the S.A.F.E. Homeless Coordinator for Mansfield City Schools, spoke about how much Altrusa has given to this program over the few years they have been involved with it.
“The S.A.F.E. Program provides support and relief to families in transition, and Altrusa has been instrumental in supplying needed items,” he said. “When I see a need for our children, I call Linda and say what I need. Next thing you know they’ve written a grant, they get the funds, and here it is. They are a big part of taking care of our families in need in Richland County.”
“Every child is a light that could light up the world,” said Mitchell. “We get rid of any barrier in their way so that they can be that light.”
The Buddy Bags Altrusa provides are backpacks filled with personal hygiene items, books and activity books at age level, toys and nutritional snacks. The bags are designed for students in transition from Pre-K to 5th grade.
“We want to make sure that after school, children have things with them to further their literacy and education,” said Williams. “The bags have supplies in them to stimulate the brain, like activity books, coloring books and toys. They also have a personal hygiene kit. Many times, these students may not have many items of their own or a place to keep them. This bag gives them those items, like a toothbrush, toothpaste, and body wash, and a place to keep them.”
Both Tools for Schools and Buddy Bags are designed to support students in need in their learning and educational journey, and both are directly aligned to Altrusa International of Mansfield’s mission: to improve children's literacy and education.
To general, donation or volunteer information, check out the Altrusa International of Mansfield Facebook page.