Story by Liesel Schmidt
Photography Courtesy of United Way of the Greater Clarksville Region & Clarksville-Montgomery County School System
Research shows that more than 10,000 students in the Clarksville-Montgomery County School System fall into the classification of being disadvantaged when it comes to economic status. To put it into percentages, that’s about 30 percent of the 35,500-plus students in the local area.
Percentages are a skill we learn in school—right along with reading, writing, history, and science. And while we might not realize that the economic disadvantages that children in our communities face at home could ever impact their level of achievement in school, the simple fact remains that having the means to buy everything a student needs for their education can mean all the difference in setting them up for a brighter, more successful future.
Even the simplest things matter—the basic school supplies, the books, the funds to pay for extras like equipment and field trips. It all adds up, like the most elementary of addition problems. And it IS a problem, one that shouldn’t go unaddressed, which is why United Way of the Greater Clarksville Region recently held Prepped for Success, a massive, community-wide initiative whose sole mission was to provide students with the school supplies they will need for the 2019-2020 school year and give them an equal opportunity for achieving the same successes as peers who do not come from economically depressed homes.
Partnering with the Clarksville-Montgomery County Education Foundation and CMCSS, United Way organized the event on June 21st and 22nd, working alongside community volunteers to pack bags of school supplies to distribute to students in need. In addition, local residents, churches, and businesses went above and beyond to donate needed supplies or raised funds needed for those supplies, ensuring that every student is packed and ready to go for the year ahead and that they don’t have to worry that money will keep them from making the grade.
“We want every student to start the school year off on the same sheet of music as their peers. In order to meet such a huge need, we knew we had to partner with the community,” says Anthony Johnson, Director of Community Relations and Continuous Improvement for Clarksville-Montgomery County Schools.
Kicking off the event on the 21st, volunteers met at CMCSS Central Services South and dug into a hearty breakfast before starting their two-hour packing shifts. Every pencil, notebook, calculator, and ruler was one more gift to give, one more tool to provide the students receiving the filled bags with hope and confidence. It seems small in our minds, but there are many students who lack even these.
“Some students don’t even have a pencil to do their homework,” says James O’Bryant, Executive Director of the Clarksville-Montgomery County Education Foundation. “It’s hard to imagine not having a pencil at home; but for some of our students, that is their reality.”
Imagine that. Just think about how much that pencil means to the student going without it, when so many of his peers have countless pencils at their disposal and even computers on which to work. For the students doing without, these are disadvantages that follow them down the halls of their schools, into their classrooms, and back to their homes. They carry it with them each day, strapped into the burden of that disadvantage like a backpack loaded with books. It’s a challenge to overcome that only adds to the already weighty task of keeping their grades up in school, which is why unloading that burden is so key to setting them up for success.
“The community rallied together to generously support this initiative,” says Sarah Wood, Community Engagement Director at United Way of the Greater Clarksville Region. “We received corporate and individual financial contributions and in-kind gifts as well as donations of school supplies. Between the City and County government employees, thousands of crayons and colored pencils were given to support the project. We also received a significant in-kind gift from Staples, which allowed us the opportunity to purchase the additional supplies we needed. Between the financial contributions, in-kind gifts, and supply donations, the community raised over $50,000 for local students,” she goes on. “During the event itself, 300 volunteers came out and packed 10,000 bags filled with basic school supplies and wrote over 2,000 encouraging letters to teachers.”
“We were blown away by the community support behind this project. There was tons of excitement generated behind Prepped for Success, and it shows that our community cares about education and opportunity for all of its students.”
- Valerie Guzman, United Way CEO
“Although a small bag with school supplies may not seem like a lot, this initiative speaks volumes to the students in our community,” Wood asserts. “Prepped for Success shows them that the community supports their academic achievements and desires to prepare them for an incredible year ahead. The community-wide project also allows students to have the necessary supplies to begin the school year; and by giving a student a pencil, our community is giving the student opportunity.”
While the backpacks might have been filled with supplies, they were also filled with so much more: the opportunity to succeed and a reminder that their community believes that they have potential that needs to be given the chance to thrive.
Thanks to the Sponsors:
Gold Level Sponsors: Altra Federal Credit Union, Community Action Agency, Fortera Credit Union, and Platnter’s Bank.
Silver Level Sponsors include F&M Bank, First Advantage Bank, New Car Dealer Association, Regions Bank, and Wyatt-Johnson.