Halfway through its second school year in Neosho, the local Bright Futures organization continues to grow.
The community volunteer-based organization provides school children in need with essentials such as food, shoes, clothing, and school supplies.
As the organization has established itself in Neosho, the number of students served, as well as the number of volunteers and contributors, has increased.
Barb Lake, the organization's Americorps-placed volunteer coordinator, said the group's overall goal is to provide students all that they need for a good education.
"The whole goal is to help kids graduate high school," Lake said. "That's what we want, but, if their needs aren't being met at home it's hard for them to focus on education."
Bright Futures Neosho offers several programs to assist students, including, the weekend backpack program, the Lunch Buddies program, site councils at each campus, and a network of volunteers ready to assist when an additional need arises.
Lake said the backpack program in grades kindergarten through seventh is done in conjunction with the Neosho Freeman Family YMCA.
Students determined to have a need are sent home with a backpack of food to keep them from going hungry over the weekend.
"I really want to stress that it's supplemental, it's not meals," Lake said. "It would be really hard to give kids every meal over the weekend. So it's a supplemental so that we know that they're getting nutrition over the weekend. There are some kids that the only nutritious meals they receive is while they're at school."
She said YMCA volunteers shop for the food items and stuff the backpacks, then Bright Futures volunteers collect the backpacks and deliver them to the district schools.
"It's a huge undertaking but it's so important," Lake said. "Some of these kids are asking by Wednesday if they're
going to receive a backpack to take home."
Lake said the backpack program serves 221 students in grades kindergarten through seventh, up from approximately 150 last school year.
"I have a nine-year-old and I never realized, before getting involved in Bright Futures, how many needs there are and what kids face at home," Lake said. "Our district-wide free and reduced [lunch] rate is 60 percent, and some of our elementary schools are as high as 80 percent free and reduced rate, and that's based on poverty guidelines. Right there you can see, there are a lot of needs. It's harder today, families are struggling more to make a living and so Neosho definitely needs Bright Futures."
She said there is also a separate backpack program at the high school level, though it operates differently for the older kids, and is not in conjunction with the YMCA.
In 2012, Bright Futures began seeking volunteers for the Lunch Buddies Program.
Page 2 of 3 - Offered at each of the elementary schools and getting under way at the middle school, the Lunch Buddies program pairs up adult volunteers with a child in need of adult companionship.
The volunteer joins their "lunch buddy" in the school cafeteria once a week.
"As far as the outreach from the community it's been going really well," Lake said.
She said the program at the middle school will have a different name, called Lunch Mentors instead, to better suit the older children.
The campuses also have site councils, groups of volunteers who work to respond to the needs of the children at that site.
In addition to site councils, Lake said Bright Futures has also paired with several community churches and businesses, who have made contributions or held shoe drives, food drives, or Christmas gift collections.
Wendy Linton, Neosho High School sophomore counselor, said there is also a student Bright Futures group being formed at the high school, in collaboration with the high school site council.
Bright Futures also recently kicked off a dinner club program at the Jefferson Street Campus, formerly known as the Southwest Alternative School.
"This program is to teach the kids life skills and also engage the community with the school," Lake said. "We had our first dinner in January, which was sponsored by the Neosho administration and the students actually cooked dinner with the sponsoring partner."
She said the next dinner volunteer is Southwest Missouri Bank.
"It engages the students with the community," she said.
HOW TO HELP
Businesses or community organizations can get involved in the new dinner program by contacting Lake at 451-8600, or emailing her at email@example.com.
She said a new group will sponsor the Bright Futures dinner club each month.
Bright Futures Neosho also posts student needs, that cannot be met by the school site councils, on their Facebook page.
Lake said they also offer text messaging and emails, which interested persons can sign up for on the Bright Futures web site, www.brightfuturesneosho.org.
"We have noticed a lot of times when we send that out it will get taken care of," Lake said.
She said the organization is always looking for volunteers to join the site councils.
They also accept donations, which can be mailed to the Neosho R-5 Administrative Center, 418 Fairground Road.
The organization also hosts a Stuff the Bus event in the late summer, which collects school supplies for students to start the new school year with.
In January, they held their second annual Bright Futures Bowling Tournament, which raised $3,000 for the weekend backpack program.
Their next event is the Bright Futures Golf Tournament, scheduled for tee-off at 9 a.m. April 19. The tournament will be held at the Neosho Municipal Golf Course.
Page 3 of 3 - Lake said the organization also has an account at Revolving Closet resale shop, where community members can make donations to put credit on their account for future student needs.