Midtown Raleigh News

Wiggins: Back-to-school efforts pay dividends

Ever since I can remember, my Aunt Sydney always made sure we had what we needed to start and stay school-ready, supplying us with everything from pencils and paper to clothes and lunch money.

Now retired, she was a Wake County elementary school teacher who, to ensure a level learning log in her own classroom, didn’t require students to supply very much, if anything. Even so, understanding the importance of children having the proper learning tools to feel confident and succeed in school, she recognized that our annual back-to-school shopping sprees were not only a time to bond but a show of her love.

It was a gift to my parents, too, whom I’m certain were thankful for the relief. I surely am, as my aunt graciously continues the tradition as a great-aunt to our daughter, a high school sophomore.

As we stumble, sleepily, toward the second week of school, I’m awed by the love shown by our Midtown neighbors to perfect strangers pushing to ready their children for a smart start to the 2013-14 school year.

Until yesterday, we could drop donations into bins for the Communities in School of North Carolina and United Way’s Build a Backpack program at Walmart stores across the state, including 16 in Wake County. From 2011 to 2012, the value of our donations doubled from $162,850.71 to $356,931.08, said CISNC spokeswoman Rebecca Clendenin.

I also checked in on a couple of many back-to-school supply drives in Midtown. What I found are grass-roots efforts to give – and give back – to children and families in communities that need it most.

One was the Shena Shares 2nd Annual Back-to-School Is Cool Community Day with LeVelle Moton, hosted at the Boys & Girls Club on Raleigh Boulevard by K97.5 WQOK-FM radio personality Shena J. and Moton, the head coach of the N.C. Central University men’s basketball team, who has childhood roots at the Boys Club.

In less than two hours, 500 backpacks were given away, packed by students and parents themselves in an assembly line of binders, spiral notebooks and loose-leaf paper; pencils, pens and crayons; and glue sticks, folders and pencil cases.

“People were lined up before 10 o’clock, waiting,” Shena J. said of the event last Saturday from noon to 3 p.m. “Something so small that many of us take for granted was a big deal for people.”

In the past, Shena J. joined with national radio host Russ Parr for his back-to-school tour. Last year she partnered with the Unleashed Aggression motorcycle club to host the first Shena Shares Back-to-School Is Cool supply giveaway at Washington Terrace. More than 100 book bags were given away, yet more were needed.

“I had listeners calling to ask when we would do it again,” she said. “I saw and heard the need and the demand.

“If I can use my voice to reach out to people to help someone else, that’s exactly what I’m going to do,” said Shena J. whose 3rd annual Shena Shares Prom Promises gave away 100 donated prom dresses this year, including free hair and makeup services. “Every little bit helps us all.”

Shena J. sends shout-outs to individuals, community organizations and businesses who gave a lot to give away. Several motorcycle clubs, a community too often shunned rather than commended for their commitment to charity, donated hundreds of book bags and volunteer hours, she said.

Laniesha Merritt, who founded Own Your Dream in 2010 to provide young people a forum to express creative talent and empower them for overall success in school and at home, also applauded local businesses who sponsored her Supplies for Scholars Back 2 School Drive.

On Aug. 17, Supplies for Scholars gave away 265 book bags stuffed with school supplies in the Raleigh North Millbank Court Apartments, also on Raleigh Boulevard. It took about an hour and a half.

“Every school year starts with a supply list of things needed in the classroom, but a lot of parents can’t afford to provide those things for their children,” said Merritt, whose organization “adopted” Millbank Court for the giveaway and for a planned Food for Thought tutoring program.

“It makes a child more comfortable and more open to learning when they have the proper supplies,” she said. “Without them, kids might have low self-esteem, decide to skip class altogether or act out.

“We set out to supply the kids with the tools they need to succeed.”