Tomorrow kicks off the Ardmore Young Professional’s 13th Annual Stuff the Backpack Drive, and we are gearing up for our best year yet. When I first joined AYP, this event and its intent to provide backpacks and school supplies to local children in need, was the first I participated in and it has held a special place in my heart ever since.
Thirteen years ago, the first AYP Board of Directors wanted to do something to help their community. TJ Riley, Business Risk Advisor at the Bramlett Agency and founding member of Ardmore Young Professionals, is excited to see how the project has grown. “This was an idea our community service committee worked on in the beginning years of the organization. We didn’t know what we were doing – it was all just an experiment. But through the hard work of our members and the generous donations from community sponsors (many of who have been sponsors every single year since the beginning) the project has grown beyond all original expectations.”
That first group purchased ten backpacks and filled them with school supplies for elementary-aged students. Since then, the project has grown consistently, providing 1,000 backpacks for the last few years for students K-12, all distributed through the Grace Center of Southern Oklahoma. Two years ago, we adjusted with feedback from the schools, and began providing school supply closets within Ardmore, Plainview, Lone Grove, Springer and Dickson schools. This assured that the right supplies served the corresponding grade levels and go to the students who need them, when they are needed.
The Grace Center also provides qualifying students with a $40 voucher to purchase school supplies from the Ardmore Staples store at the same time as the AYP backpacks are distributed.
“It costs the average American family upwards of $100 to purchase school supplies every year. These are basic necessities that many local low-income families simply can’t afford. By helping provide local students with school supply essentials, The Grace Center of Southern Oklahoma and Ardmore Young Professionals both help alleviate the stress felt by families who struggle to make ends meet. The reward is local students arriving ready to learn on the first day of school,” said Laura Akers, Executive Director the Grace Center of Southern Oklahoma.
“Because this is an income-based program, there are requirements. To apply, an applicant will need to show photo ID, along with a printout from the Oklahoma Department of Human Services (DHS) showing an open support case. This print out must include the names and birth dates of the children for which the applicant is applying for. (This is how the Grace Center verifies school-aged children.) Soonercare does not qualify for this program,” explain Akers. “The Grace Center also accept a school district free/reduced lunch letter, if the children attend a district other than Ardmore. Ardmore City Schools provide all meals at no cost to students. There is a limit of 5 vouchers per family.”
The AYP Stuff the Backpack Drive will run from June 24th until August 2nd, 2019. The backpacks and Staples vouchers will be distributed from the Grace Center beginning August 5th. Please visit the AYP website at ardmoreyp.com for a list of drop off locations if you would like to make a school supply donation. The supplies most needed include crayons, pens (blue or black), safety scissors, highlighters, #2 pencils, flash drives of any memory size, notebook paper (college or wide ruled), 3 ring binders and 3 ring pencil pouches. Financial donations are also welcome, including through an online donation option at ardmoreyp.com.
“It’s overwhelming to think how many children would have gone without if not for this drive,” said Riley. “The kids who were served during those first years are now grown and many of them have graduated college. Thank you so much so much to everyone who has sponsored and donated over the past thirteen years!”
Backpack sponsors for the 2019 drive include DOT Foods and Mercy Hospital of Ardmore.
Supply sponsors include The Daube Company, Sullivan Insurance Agency, and Time & Julie Longest.