Backpacks For Success

When classes start next week Sharon White will send her children off to school with many of the supplies they’ll need for a worthwhile education. With the help of 100 Black Men of Madison they received the basic tools of scholarship – notebooks, pencils and pens – and a book bag to carry them in.  Like most working mothers White struggles to make ends meet. But this timely investment in her kid’s future can make all the difference in their preparation for learning.

“I’m paycheck to paycheck and I have to wait until I have enough money to buy school supplies,” she said. “Normally it’s the first week or right before school when we can actually do it. So now they’re set with their supplies and their backpacks. It’s fabulous! This gives everyone who wouldn’t have had one a head start.”

Now in its 21st year the annual Backpacks For Success campaign provides schools supplies for local children in the need. Through an ongoing effort to raise funds and the support of several corporate sponsors 100 Black Men of Madison gives area youth an early boost toward positive academic outcomes. Board member and chairman of the initiative Chris Canty said it’s a fun and effective way to put kids on the right track before the schoolhouse doors even open.

“Every year we give away about 1500 backpacks to children in need. It’s just an absolute blast!” he said. “It’s so great to see the smiles and the pride on the children’s faces as they start the school year with fresh supplies and a new backpack.”

Young students and their families gathered by the hundreds at Demetral Field on Madison’s Eastside for a free picnic lunch and a bag of school supplies for every child. Though other organizations offer similar contributions the 100 Black Men of Madison event is perhaps the largest in Dane County. Extra supplies that are left over are donated directly to schools that can put them to good use.

“More than half of our students are students of poverty, so any resources that we can provide is one less thing that our families have to be prepared for and worry about,” said Sarah Chaja, principle at Samuel Gompers Elementary School. “We had registration just last week and they’re so excited to come back! We have open house next week and all the supplies will be at their desks when they get there.”

As state and local governments continue to reduce funding for public education even the smallest contributions mean a great deal. Often the cost of even basic school supplies for children in need are covered by their teachers.

“Sometimes our staff has to buy things out of pocket,” Chaja said. “Teachers are great people who never want a  child to go without anything they need to learn.”

The Backpacks For Success programs helps to reduce the financial burden on schools and the families they serve, while providing kids with the tools they need to succeed.

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James Mills

James Edward Mills is a freelance journalist who specializes in telling stories about outdoor recreation, environmental conservation, acts of charitable giving, and practices of sustainable living. He has worked in the outdoor industry since 1989 as a guide, outfitter, independent sales representative, writer, and photographer. He is the author of the new book “The Adventure Gap: Changing the Face of the Outdoors” and the co-writer/co-producer of the documentary film An American Ascent. James has written for the Wisconsin State Journal, Madison Magazine, and Wisconsin Trails. He is currently a contributor to several outdoor-focused print and online publications such as National Geographic Adventure, Rock & Ice, Alpinist, SUP, Elevation Outdoors, Women’s Adventure, the, Park Advocate, High Country News, Land & People, Outside Magazine and The Guardian

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