Students supplied with clothes – and a lot of love – at distribution event

GCU doctoral learner Kimberly Hill helps students pick out shoes during Back-to-School Clothing Drive’s New Clothes = New Beginnings distribution event Monday at GCU Arena.

Photos by Ralph Freso / Slideshow

Kimberly R. Hill chatted with a student who very well knew his mind.

“He was itty-bitty and knew what he wanted. ‘Oh. I don’t want that. Do you have another color?’” that student asked her, decidedly, at the Back-to-School Clothing Drive’s New Clothes = New Beginnings event, which has called the Grand Canyon University campus home for almost a decade.

“He was very particular, and I LOVE that, you know?”

The Grand Canyon University alumna and psychology doctoral learner said what has driven her to return for three years as a New Clothes = New Beginnings volunteer is that the Title I children it serves aren’t told what shoes, specialty clothing and other items to choose.

Volunteer Melissa Harris helps a Barcelona Middle School student pick an outfit.

They are encouraged to use their own voice. They have room to embrace their own decisions. They have the power.

“They have the freedom to shop and pick out what they want, and they don’t feel like it’s a handout. That’s what I like about it the most. … and they’re always so grateful and happy,” said Hill, who donned her GCU purple T-shirt as she helped students find the perfect fit in the shoe section — a shoe store, if you will — in one corner of GCU Arena.

It was just one of the clothing areas that preregistered kindergarteners through sixth graders, an estimated 5,000 of them from approximately 140 schools, visited Monday at the distribution event, which ends today.

Arizona State Rep.and GCU alum Quanta Crews helps size a belt for a student.

With their own volunteer personal shoppers walking with them from area to area, students filled the tote bags they picked up in the Arena lobby with shorts, uniform polos, sweatshirts, undergarments, belts, socks, backpacks, shoes and, of course, a specialty item from the Stitches of Love pop-up boutique, where they could find colorfully crocheted beanies or handmade purses, skirts or blouses made by 100-plus Stitches of Love volunteers who sewed, crafted, knitted and crocheted tens of thousands of items all year long.

It was all to prepare them for the first day of school so they will be ready to absorb all that reading, writing and ’rithmetic without having to worry about having a backpack. Or shoes. Or a uniform.

But the distribution event wasn’t just about equipping students with new clothes.

Once they made their way through the clothing areas that peppered the GCU Arena floor, they mounted the steps to the second floor of the building, where they would be equipped with so much more.

Students also got connected to kid-friendly, education-minded nonprofits at an expanded section dubbed the Arizona’s Family Learning Zone.

One of those nonprofits, the Girl Scouts, challenged students to prompt clear, pingpong-ball-sized robots called Ozobots to tootle along a path they’ve drawn with special markers.

Expanding their STEM knowledge via robots can earn a Girl Scout a robotics badge, just an example of the many enrichment opportunities students have as a Girl Scout.

Students played meteorologist as they see how the green screen works at the 3 TV and Channel 5 Arizona’s Family Learning Zone.

Students also could drop by the AZ Strut area, which stands for Arizona Students Recycling  Used Technology. The nonprofit repairs used technology to benefit Arizona schools and recently refurbished and distributed 150 laptops to students, said Mel McClure, an AZ Strut volunteer.

“It’s an awesome thing. It’s great that they (the Back-to-School Clothing Drive) are helping these kids,” said McClure’s mom, Kim, also an AZ Strut volunteer.

Courtney Clawson, representing the Phoenix Zoo, was at New Clothes = New Beginnings for the first time. Students visiting the zoo table could compare the size of an orangutan hand mold to their own or compare a Siberian tiger skill to that of house cat to see the size difference.

“We try to be as interactive as we can,” Clawson said.

They also could take on the role of meteorologist as they stood in front of a green screen that, on camera, displayed a map of the country and the temperatures from city to city.

Dentistry students from the Arizona School of Dentistry and Oral Health, along with Midwestern Dental School and Rio Salado Dental Clinic, gave dental screenings.

There was the familiar New Clothes = New Beginnings favorite, the book area, where students could pick up a book to read, from “Flat Stanley: His Original Adventure” by Jeff Brown to “The Snow Day From the Black Lagoon” by Mike Thaler to “Ivy and Bean and the Ghost That Had to Go” by author Annie Barrow.

And volunteers from AT Still University’s Arizona School of Dentistry and Oral Health, along with Midwestern Dental School and Rio Salado Dental Clinic were onsite to perform dental check-ups.

Part of the dentistry section was the Nutrition Sugar Activity table.

“Do you have a favorite drink?” a volunteer asked before revealing that Mountain Dew contains 12 teaspoons of sugar, then pointed to a clear plastic glass containing 12 sugar cubes.

Judy Mork, part of a contingent of 80-100 Wells Fargo volunteers, said it was her first year at the clothing distribution.

“I heard it’s a great event. My colleagues, they love it,” Mork said, and was inspired to volunteer with them this year. “They love spending time with the children and seeing their faces as they’re picking out their clothing.”

A student shows off his items to Back-to-School Clothing Drive Board Member Bonnie Smith during the New Clothes = New Beginnings event.

Volunteer personal shopper Marie Flores, a National Charity League volunteer from the Ahwatukee Foothills Chapter, felt the same as she escorted students on the Arena floor from clothing area to clothing area.

“The kids, they’re cute to see, and some of them are so shy. … By the end, you get a feel for what they’re interested in."

Back-to-School Clothing Drive Board Member Bonnie Smith also took time out to be a personal shopper to Salvadore Valdez and sister Mia Valdez, who donned pink and yellow Crocs.

“Look at these little ones!” she said excitedly of why she’s been involved with the Back-to-School Clothing Drive for more than two decades. She said Mia just gave one of the volunteers a big hug for helping her pick out a pair of shorts.

“It’s so incredible to find the joy, to fill the Arena this week,” Smith said.

It was an event that also saw a visit from Phoenix Suns All-Star Devin Booker, who volunteered for part of Wednesday morning at GCU Arena after already donating to the clothing drive through his foundation, Starting Five. Arizona State Rep. and GCU alumna Quantá Crews was there, too, along with “America’s Favorite Mascot,” Thunder, and other dignitaries.

Crews, who received her bachelor's degree from GCU in 2008, remembers volunteering in the community as a student here, particularly in the nearby Alhambra School District. She said it's crazy the path her life has taken, "a little girl from Michigan" who came to Arizona originally to get a sports medicine/athletic training degree and is now a new Arizona state representative.

At the distribution event, she continued to be involved with the community she never left after choosing to attend GCU.

"It was awesome seeing them pick out their clothes, pick out their shoes," she said of the students she escorted through the Arena from Global Academy of Phoenix as she thought about her trek to Arizona. "It was me listening to the Holy Spirit and coming to Arizona, getting connected to the community with the work that we do. ... It (the Back-to-School Clothing Drive event) was just beautiful, and it was an honor to give back."

GCU Executive Vice President of Business Analytics Dilek Marsh has volunteered at the Back-to-School Clothing Drive for years with her daughter.

GCU Executive Vice President of Business Analytics Dilek Marsh playfully tugs on a student's bag during Back-to-School Clothing Drive’s New Clothes = New Beginnings.

“We love seeing the excitement in the kids’ eyes when they get all the new clothing and other items,” said Marsh, who was helping students at the shoe area. “You see shy kids, very outgoing ones, and even some really struggling ones.

“My favorite was actually taking the time to bond with a little boy who eventually agreed to take his current shoes off and try new ones. Once we found the match, and he even felt comfortable enough to pick the color he wanted, he smiled when he was leaving with the box of new shoes.

“Such a heart-warming event! I love that GCU supports this every year.”

A wall of shoe boxes surrounds students and volunteers as they try on new shoes during Back-to-School Clothing Drive’s New Clothes = New Beginnings.

GCU sophomore Brayden Thielbar, who wore a praying cross necklace around his neck, said he has been meaning to volunteer for a few years now and, “This year I’ve been blessed to do it,” as he escorted students into the Arena before their shopping sessions began.

“My favorite part, honestly, is just giving back to the community and seeing the kids so happy.”

GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults can be reached at [email protected] or at (602) 639-7901.

Related content:

GCU News: Back-to-School Clothing Drive back at GCU

GCU News: Back-to-School Clothing Drive the right fit for GCU

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