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|Backpack in the Park benefit stirs nostalgia, helps needy kids|
|by Ryan Lee|
|July 22, 2011 00:00|
It would be tragic if a future brilliant writer failed to find her voice because she didn’t have a pencil in her first grade language arts class, or if a gifted artist abandoned drawing because he was too embarrassed to borrow crayons from his classmates.
“When you’re sitting in the classroom and you notice that the person next to you has the big three-ring binder with everything they need, and you’re using a binder that’s about to fall apart and you’re using a pencil that’s down to the nub, I think it has a big impact on a student’s self esteem and self confidence,” says Chris Bess, president of For the Kid in All of Us.
For the sixth summer, For the Kid is helping underprivileged children throughout metro Atlanta start the school year with the confidence that comes from, say, a Lady GaGa Trapper Keeper. On July 30, the non-profit hosts “Backpack in the Park,” which last year collected almost 1,500 backpacks filled with school supplies.
“We’ve upped our goal this year to 2,000, which is a good stretch for us, and we think we’re poised to have a great year and good turnout,” Bess says. “Especially today, with things being the way that they are, it’s very difficult for a lot of families to supply all of the school supplies that the kids need.”
The cover charge for Backpack in the Park — which features carnival games and other activities for attendees of all ages, a balloon prize wall, plus libations for adults — is a backpack filled with essential school supplies. The event takes place at the Greystone at Piedmont Park, with DJ Vicki Powell providing the soundtrack and an after-party at Joe’s on Juniper featuring DJ Thomas Byrd.
To reach its goal, For the Kid fostered a friendly competition among local organizations and businesses, including sponsors AT&T, Newell Rubbermaid and the Intercontinental Hotel Group.
“Everyone likes some competition, and the end result of all of that is that we collect more backpacks,” Bess says.
The impact of Backpack in the Park reverberates beyond the opening weeks of the school year, says Lydell Smith, Youth Programs coordinator at AGAPE, one of the event’s beneficiaries.
“We end up having enough supplies to give the kids ongoing throughout the school year,” Smith says. “Of course, crayons don’t last an entire year, so we’re able to replace what the kids need. It’s just a very wonderful partnership that we have, and we definitely appreciate their support.”
AGAPE is a community center that offers tutoring and mentoring programs for about 180 students in the Bolton Road area of northwest Atlanta. The thirteen beneficiaries for this year’s Backpack in the Park stretch across the metro area — a homeless shelter in Walton County, a food pantry in Dunwoody, an elementary school in Lithia Springs.
“For the Kid in All of Us does some fantastic work for organizations who really would struggle to assist children in this way,” says Sandy Welfare, executive director of The Cool Girls, an after-school program for females that serves about 500 students in Atlanta’s East Lake neighborhood.
The Cool Girls aims to “give the girls a sense that there opportunities for them to break outside their social and economic environment,” says Welfare, who believes Backpack in the Park helps develop a positive self-image for the young women.
“The feeling it creates is that, ‘I care, I’m feeling confident, I have all the tools I need to start the year off right,’” she says.
The Cool Girls program has also partnered with For the Kid in its other two annual fundraisers: Project Prom, which helps teens with attire for the high school rite of passage, and the Toy Party, which collects thousands of gifts for disadvantaged children during the holidays.
Toy Party, the first fundraiser from For the Kid in All of Us, quickly became one of the most popular events of the year, with LGBT Atlantans relishing the opportunity to reconnect with their childhood by shopping for toys.
“For Backpack in the Park, we used the same model,” Bess says. “We looked at what’s another milestone event in a child’s life, and one of those is going back to school.”
“Everyone can relate to this event — getting ready to go back to school, the excitement getting their school supplies together and everything, and reconnecting with our friends after a long break,” he adds. “It’s a very nostalgic event that I think people connect to on an emotional level.”
Top photo: Backpack in the Park draws LGBT people and allies together to collect school supplies to help young people in need. (by Dyana Bagby)
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