Wiley fund will help families in need of food, financial assistance

06/29/2014 12:00 AM

06/27/2014 4:52 PM

A fund at Wiley Elementary School will provide assistance to families who hit tough times, whether it’s making sure they have warm coats for winter or enough food to eat during the weekend.

The Cecilia Rawlins Fund, named for a beloved retired principal, has existed informally for years, but was recently granted federal nonprofit status.

A group of parents at Wiley established the fund when Rawlins retired in 2007 after 15 years at the school to honor her legacy of making sure that every child had their needs met.

Rawlins made sure children could participate in field trips or book fairs even if their families had little money to spare, and procured coats and shoes when children were in need.

“She always wanted to make sure there was a level playing field,” said Julie Cox, president of the fund’s board. “No one would be left out.”

Rawlins knew every child at the school and worked behind the scenes to help families in need in an quiet way that preserved their privacy and dignity, said Amy Madison, a former Wiley parent who helped collect donations when Rawlins retired.

Since the original collection, parents have worked to help families in a variety of ways. In cooperation with local churches and community members, they started a section of Inter-Faith Food Shuttle’s Backpack Buddies, which sends food bags home to nearly 30 Wiley students each week.

They also formed a crisis relief group that gave families support such as one-time financial assistance with utility bills, donations for families moving out of homelessness and gas cards for families who needed to travel during medical emergencies.

The parents aim to use the formal structure to help more children in a streamlined way.

Ilina Ewen, a Wiley parent and member of the fund’s board, said the group works through school officials to provide help confidentially. The principal and school counselor are able to identify children in need and let the board know what would help without naming them.

Ewen said parents see how valuable it is that children’s basic needs are met if they’re to succeed academically. A cold or hungry child could have trouble focusing on their schoolwork.

“We see the importance of nurturing the whole child,” she said.

The board hopes to share their model with other schools .

Rawlins said she’s very honored by the creation of the fund. She always wanted children to feel connected to their school community, and making sure they were taken care of was one way to nurture that relationship.

“I just thought it was the least we could do,” she said.

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