Civic leaders in Grain Valley took a moment Thursday morning to look back at a year of neighbors helping neighbors and to outline some challenges that lie ahead.
“We want to be instilling in all of our students the need for service and the … internal rewards that come with service,” Grain Valley School District Deputy Superintendent Brad Welle said at the annual Bright Futures breakfast.
The idea behind Bright Futures is to give teachers and others a way to connect students in need – a pair of shoes, a pair of glasses – with churches, businesses and others ready to help.
As officials describe it, needs are significant. The district has 4,250 students, and one in five qualifies for free or reduced-price lunches, the marker that school districts most commonly use as a measure of poverty. Last year, 32 students were classified as homeless, up from 19 the year before.
Welle ran through a wide range of efforts:
• On “Undy Sunday” in May, local churches brought in 745 items of underwear and raised $144.
• Police officers helped 184 students through Badges for Backpacks.
• The Food for the Weekend program helped dozens.
• The district works with a Kansas City group, Giving the Basics, which provides personal-care items such as soap and shampoo that public assistance doesn’t cover.
• Prom dresses are made available in the spring.
• The Grain Valley High School baseball team did a day of service.
• Focus for Grain Valley, working with Blue Springs Optical, got eyeglasses for nine students.
• Matthews Elementary students gathered 91 pairs of sock, gloves and hats.
• The Christmas store held by the Grain Valley Assistance Council helped 180 children and youth.
• Forty lice kits were given out.
Welle underlined a new program last year called Lunch Buddies, in which a volunteer regularly sits down for a school lunch with a student who could use a friendly ear.
“And 19 of you stepped up last year,” he said, adding that more volunteers are desired.
The district also set up a scholarship fund for Sni Valley Academy, the district’s alternative high school, to encourage students to stay in school beyond high school.
“So we pitched this to you last year and were blown away by the contributions,” he said. Contributions totalled $8,200 – enough to award scholarships from earned interest alone.
Michelle Mellody, a family-school liaison, said a handful of families struggle to pay utility bills after hitting their limit on help from such groups as the Grain Valley Assistance Council. Five families alone fell $1,228 short, sometimes forcing a choice between food on the table and keeping the lights on.
“This is something that I see as a growing need,” she said.
Also, the “Response Army” – the nearly 1,000 Facebook friends of Bright Futures – jumped in several times. Once was after the March tornado that touched Grain Valley but hit Oak Grove and Odessa hard. Through the Bright Futures network, there were three nights of collecting goods as well as gifts of gift cards and cash.
That help, and much from other places, has flowed through the Oak Grove office of the Community Services League.
“I just want to say thank you to you all. The response was amazing,” said Gina Parr, CSL’s director in Oak Grove. “ … It’s good to see the love that comes when we need it.”