(Photos by Jeanne Erickson)
Thanks to a whole slew of community organizations and the Boys & Girls Club of Dane County, the first day of school will be a brighter day for a bunch of Madison-area students and families.
For the first time, the annual Ready, Set, Go: Back to School celebration took place at three areas simultaneously in Madison — the Boys & Girls Club of Dane County (BGCDC) sites on Taft Street and Allied Drive and at Leopold Elementary School.
“We’ve been doing these Back To School events for 6 or 7 years now, but this is the largest one that we’ve ever done,” said Michael Johnson, president and CEO of BGCDC. “This year, we decided to take it to a whole other level. Particularly, we wanted to reach out to the Latino community ... so we decided to host it at Leopold, too.”
Dozens of volunteers — including Madison Metropolitan School District interim superintendent Dr. Jane Belmore — distributed over 1,000 backpacks to kids at the three facilities.
“We had a little over 200 volunteers and gave out over a thousand backpacks. We provided more than 200 haircuts and styles for both boys and girls, and we gave away 225 bikes, 500 pairs of scissors, 10,000 rings of paper, crayon, pencils, and folders,” Johnson said. “The fact that 200 people would give up their Sunday to volunteer and give back to the community is amazing.”
A youngster gets his hair cut at Ready. Set. Go.
The Boys & Girls Club of Dane County partnered with the Madison Metropolitan School District, the Latino Chamber of Commerce, and the Latino Support Network along with dozens of other local to pull off this great event. “It was a phenomenal collaboration. We literally have backpacks left over,” Johnson says. “This was by far the biggest one that we ever coordinated.
Along with the backpacks, there were hamburgers, hotdogs, ice cream, music and DJs at all of the facilities. BGCDC partnered with Fresh Madison Market and the Fresh Mobile was there to allow families to come in and get free fresh fruits and vegetables off the truck.
For the second straight year, children could receive haircuts and hairstyles as well as healthy living tips.
“We bussed kids to local beauty salons, too,” Johnson says. “We took the entire [South Side] Raiders team over to J.P.’s [Hair Design].”
The Ready, Set, Go: Back to School event had activities designed to send Dane County youth back to school in style.
“[When] you look good and you feel good then you are confident and ready to learn,” Johnson said. “We want to make sure that the kids are ready for that first day. Beyond feeling and looking good, we want to introduce the kids to healthier options, too.”
Sponsors included Walgreens, Michaels Frozen Custard, Shopko, McDonald’s, YWCA, Charter, Burger King, CUNA Mutual, Wendy’s, The Literacy Network, Staples, Heibing, Hy-Vee, the Fitchburg Police Department, Kraft/Oscar Mayer, and much more. “It’s something that we are going to do every year. The fact that we had close to 50 partners helping us to organize this event was absolutely amazing,” Johnson said.
Nancy Rodriguez (left) and Ananda Mirilli
The record number of sponsors enabled the BGCDC to expand to Leopold Elementary School this year where they were able to reach out to a growing Latino population.
“We served about 300 families at Leopold and most were Latino families,” said Nancy Rodriguez who volunteered all day with Ananda Mirilli. “Some of the families were registered as members of the BGCDC, but we registered many new families, and this was the main purpose of the event as well as getting kids ready for school. It was truly a great event.”
Mirilli and Rodriguez were in charge of the backpack station that was set up like a mini-store and kids could walk through and choose a backpack of their liking.
“What a thrill to look at the little faces of the children as they picked out their favorite new backpack for their first year,” Mirilli said. “Older kids got to pick whatever they wanted as well and many of the backpacks had a ‘cool’ look. As I sent them off ready for the beginning of the school year, I helped the little ones to get them on their backs. Many of them were so excited that I could see their eyes sparkling as they stared at their backpacks. A few kids had tears in their eyes from all the excitement.”
Johnson said that he was happy that BGCDC was reaching out to the Latino and Hmong communities.
“We want them to see that we are there to support them, too,” Johnson said. “I take it as an honor when somebody drops their kids off and asks us to serve and to inspire their children. We don’t take that lightly.”
Johnson said that BGCDC delivered backpacks and school supplies to some of the families who couldn’t make it to the event, too.
“It was one of my proudest moments at the Boys and Girls Club seeing all of those families walk through and get the things that they needed at this event,” Johnson said. “Every year we will continue to expand it and it will get bigger and bigger. We started at one location and we’re already at three. Maybe next year it will be six or ten!
“We are going to do great things for all kids in this community,” Johnson continued. “The Boys & Girls Club will expand to more communities that are at-risk. We have a plan that will help reduce crime amongst school-aged children and will see higher attendance and GPAs.”
Centro Hispano staff and friends at Leopold Elementary School