First-grader Jada will have a jump start on the new school year after getting her first-ever haircut.
“I’ve been growing it for six years,” she told the Rudy and Kelly hairstylist set up in a Larkspur Middle School classroom.
A rising kindergartner in the school’s cafeteria was ecstatic to find the movie star Minions on a T-shirt he would get to keep, and high school teens sorted through stacked jeans to find pairs to their liking.
Also available to students at stations throughout the school were shoes, backpacks, school supplies, library cards, hygiene products and health screenings as needed.
They were among the 390 students from across the city who benefited from Jump Start, an event hosted Aug. 27 by the school division and the nonprofit AidNow to help students in need prepare for the school year.
It was five years ago that Jessie Calevas, parent and AidNow board member, read an article about the school division’s homeless education program in the division’s newsletter Apple-A-Day.
She wanted to help.
Calevas contacted the Office of Programs for Exceptional Children and met with Gay Thomas, coordinator of school social work services. They discussed how the newly-formed AidNow could support students in housing crisis.
“I wanted to give the kids fashionable, trendy clothing that they wanted to wear to school,” Calevas recalled of that first meeting. “It’s not the students’ fault they’re homeless, and I thought it would help them want to go to school if they felt like they were not going to be singled out by what they were wearing.”
Following that meeting, the first Jump Start event was planned. AidNow and VBCPS have continued to work together every summer to give hundreds of students a positive start to the school year.
They don’t do it alone. Corporate sponsors and community agencies provide resources and volunteers for the event, and the division’s school social workers identify families to invite and greet them at the door.
“This is a calling,” he said. “They are overworked and understaffed, but they love our kids and do great things for students every day.”
Spence added, “This event is a blessing and amazing for our students. My heart is filled with joy.”
“Everybody walks away happy,” said Calevas. “The volunteers walk away happy, the board walks away happy, and the students walk away feeling like they are ready for the school year.”
Thomas agreed. She likes that the event helps students feel prepared regardless of where they live or what their home situation is like.
“We want them to feel comfortable. We know that school is the only steady thing for a lot of these students,” said Thomas. “They know school is their support system, and they know they’re going to get breakfast and lunch. If we can help by making sure they have the clothes, the backpacks and the supplies they need so they look like everybody else, that’s our goal.”
“A woman from a battered woman’s shelter and her teenage son came three years in a row,” Calevas recalled. “Last year she came and donated clothing because she had graduated college, had a job, was out of the shelter and wanted to give back to us. She couldn’t volunteer at the event because she was working, but she wanted to make sure we had clothes to give to the students like her son had received.”