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Friday, March 20, 2015

Douglass Alumni Gifts to Lincoln School: More Than Just Pencils And Paper

"You'd never know to look at school kids, what their real needs are."

That was the message from Sons and Daughters of Alumni president Douglas Releford, as the alumni group presented gifts to the school children of Lincoln Elementary School in Kingsport.  The gifts were in the form of items purchased with a community block grant awarded from the city to the alumni association.

"Since we're a non-profit association," Releford says, "when the city received a community block grant, we applied for part of that and was awarded $2,500.  We decided to use that to give back to children in the community by providing school supplies like pencils, paper, crayons and things like that."

It wasn't until the school provided a list of items the children needed, that Releford was taken aback.

"I was surprised by what was on the list," he remembers.  "It included things like underwear, socks, sweat shirts and pants, gloves and coats.  Most of the time, you think kids need paper, pencils, markers, posters, notebooks, erasers, rulers, things like that.  Those were on the list, too.  But then, items needed that were for comfort, actually touched the heart.  Some of these kids come to school without the basic necessary items to make them comfortable.  Feeling good in your classroom is part of the learning process.  If the child is uncomfortable, has cold hands and feet during cold weather, or on the other hand, wears clothes that generate too much heat when it's warm, they're not comfortable.  It's difficult for families on a fixed income to provide absolutely everything for their child's comfort."

"We just knew we had to do something to help these children."

For 2015, Congress has allocated $2.8 billion dollars to go for community development block grants around the country.  Although that is a reduction of $230 million dollars from last year, Kingsport received $317,466 dollars to be distributed through block grants.

The Sons and Daughters of Douglass Alumni Association applied for and received $2,500 of that money.

"The way community block grants work is, the group that gets one targets a need in their community," Releford says.  "The group then makes the purchases for beneficial goods or services, disburses that in the community, then is reimbursed for what they have spent, through the block grant.  This was the first time the alumni association has ever received part of a grant, so we wanted to target a specific need."

"There's no doubt that we made a good choice."

Together with alumni board members Andra Watterson and Judy Phillips, necessary clothing items were purchased at both of Kingsport's Walmart stores.

"Everything we needed was there," Watterson says.  "We bought book bags, underclothes, shirts, socks, pants, tops, and sweat shirts, along with traditional school supplies.  We even bought deodorants and hand sanitizers for the kids.  The idea was to buy items that they could use at school as well as home.  We purchased a set number of each product to make sure that we didn't miss a needed item."

Releford and his committee worked with the Lincoln principal Mrs. Shelia Newland, the school maintenance employee, and a state social worker, to identify the school children felt to be in the most need and get the necessary items in their hands.

More than 50 children benefited from the items purchased by the Sons and Daughters Alumni Association, at a cost of more than 770 dollars.

"I feel that the school kids may not have gotten this kind of assistance if we hadn't applied for and received the block grant to help them out," Releford says.  "The school was just so grateful."

Why did the alumni association pick Lincoln Elementary?

"At one time, all of the minority children in Kingsport went to Lincoln," Releford says, "having gone to Washington Elementary at first.  When that school moved, Lincoln began receiving the minority and low-income children and today, that is still the case.  We just felt that those kids would need more assistance than other kids in the city.  That's not to say that the other schools don't need the help, too, but with more of the minority and lower-income children going to Lincoln, we felt like those kids could use our help more than some of the other schools could."

This won't be the last time Lincoln gets the help.  Releford says the alumni association will use the rest of its portion of the block grant elsewhere for the kids.  "This experience has taught us that, no matter what you see on the surface, some kids need more than just pencils and paper for reading, writing and arithmetic," he says.  "They also need comfortable clothes, personal hygiene items, even little energy snacks."

"All of that helps make the learning experience in elementary school a positive one."

And the help won't stop there.

"When the city receives another community block grant, we will definitely apply for a portion of it," says Releford.  "We'll be looking for other programs that need funding in our community, and once we find it, identify it, and research them, we will use the block grant to help them along, too."