Arena event clothes, preps kids for school
By Michael Ferraresi
GCU News Bureau
The first day of school is always an emotional affair. It’s extra emotional for children whose families struggle to outfit them with new clothes and supplies for the year ahead.
There’s an added anxiety that comes with feeling unprepared, teased or less than as classmates are showing off their new duds. Those anxious moments can cut into classroom productivity or a child’s overall comfort with schoolwork.
The 21st annual Back to School Clothing Drive’s “New Clothes, New Beginnings” summer distribution aims to solve that problem by linking underprivileged Valley children to the shirts, shoes, backpacks and other supplies their families cannot afford. More than 5,000 K-6 students from 140 schools in 40 districts are expected to benefit from this year’s four-day event, which begins Monday at GCU Arena.
It’s the third year GCU has hosted the Back to School Clothing Drive, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the education and classroom experience of Arizona kids. Children from dozens of Valley school districts and community organizations are paired with volunteers who shepherd them through various “departments” set up on the Arena floor, like having their own personal shoppers.
Each child receives a couple of shirts, a sweatshirt, shoes, a book, a backpack filled with classroom supplies, and other items — and they get to select what they like independently, without mom or dad around to make any pesky suggestions about what looks cool.
Many volunteers return year after year because they enjoy being able to play that role in a child’s life.
“They really pay personal and specific attention to these kids and give them that one-on-one time with a volunteer to pick out what they want,” said Karl Gentles, executive director for Back to School Clothing Drive. “Everything we do at the Arena and the event is about giving kids the very best experience possible. Our volunteers help them shop for clothes, find the right sizes and pick items they will feel good about.”
About 3,000 volunteers are set to help out at the event. Students each receive $300 worth of clothes and school supplies, and more than $2 million in clothes and supplies are given out throughout the week.
Back to School Clothing Drive’s initiative benefits students from Title I public elementary schools and other programs, such as domestic violence shelters and select charter schools. Most come from families that face the difficult decision of juggling material needs of children with the immediate need to pay the rent and put food on the table.
Gentles said GCU has become a valuable partner in that effort because it is good for students who sometimes don’t feel comfortable in an academic setting to experience the people and atmosphere of a fast-growing university campus.
“We believe Grand Canyon is a wonderful place for kids to not only have their first experience on a college campus, but to see what higher education looks like and showing them what continuing their education after elementary, middle and high school looks like,” he said.
“New Clothes, New Beginnings” is a partnership between Back to School Clothing Drive and the BHHS Legacy Foundation Backpack Buddies Program. The partnership sends 7,000 filled backpacks to students in northern Arizona and local social service agencies.
Contact Michael Ferraresi at 602-639-7030 or [email protected].