Students help students with Partners in Learning program

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 5, 2014

On Tuesday afternoon, one of the after-school groups at Partners in Learning worked steadily packing food for the Communities in Schools backpack program. They had an efficient process as the kids walked around the board room table, filling plastic bags with rice, canned goods and various snacks.
All the kids smiled, but worked with a purpose until 100 bags were filled, tied and made ready for pickup.
“It took a while for the kids to find a rhythm, but now I just tell them how many of each item go in a bag, and step back out of the way,” project leader Tim Honeycutt said. “They really enjoy the work and understand the purpose for it.”
During the previous school year, the Salvation Army, Rowan Rotary, and Communities in Schools of Rowan County all came together to provide the backpack program.
“Our part was to identify the students in need, and we originally packed the bags too,” said Emily Harrison, a Communities in Schools site coordinator who works at North Rowan Middle School.
The Salvation Army provided the food and Rowan Rotary Club bought the backpacks and handled transportation, she said. The program served 20-25 students each week by putting the food bags into backpacks and discreetly sending them home on Friday afternoons.
The program continued with the 2013-14 school year, adding Partners in Learning to the mix. The Salvation Army still provides the food, but Partners in Learning picks up the food and bags it. Next, Rowan Rotary transports the bags to North Middle and Communities in Schools drops the food bags into the backpacks to complete the process.
Early in this school year, the service was expanded to 65 students. Recently, the need has increased again and the after-school group at Partners in Learning is now packing 100 bags.
“This is a great service,” Harrison said. “Communities in Schools is so happy to work with these other wonderful organizations to make this happen, especially since so many students need extra food and snacks at home over the weekend.”
At Partners in Learning, the kids who pack the bags come from Overton, Isenberg and Hurley elementary schools, as well as North Hills Christian School. Autumn King, an 8-year-old from Hurley Elementary, loves the project.
“I feel so bad that the kids don’t have enough food, and don’t want them to starve,” she said. “Kids who get this food know that they will have something eat for the whole weekend.”
Angelina Ebeling, a fourth-grader from Overton Elementary, said she loves packing the bags and wants to do more.
“About a year ago, I volunteered at Rowan Helping Ministries and saw a fifth-grader spending the night there. She was doing her homework while we were cleaning dishes,” Angelina said. “I prayed for her and other kids who don’t have food. I plan to have a yard sale to help out.”
Luis Avilez, a third-grader at Overton, said, “I want to do this because it is a way that I can help out the community.”
Partners in Learning Program Coordinator Michelle Macon works with Communities in Schools, and when the discussion came up about volunteers, she knew that it would be a good fit for the after-school program. After-school kids and summer camps have participated in various service projects including Rowan Helping Ministries, Meals on Wheels and visiting a local nursing home weekly to play games with residents.
“We believe in the importance of teaching kids to serve others. It is also important to teach them empathy, which is often lacking in today’s world,” said Partners in Learning Executive Director Norma Honeycutt. “Service projects allow the kids to see the world through the eyes of others, engages their compassion and teaches responsibility. It doesn’t get much better than that.”
Honeycutt said it is “such a blessing to stand back and watch the kids fill the bags. If one of the kids doesn’t put the right amount of an item in a bag, one of the other kids will probably point it out. The children look forward to this every week.”
Important for the future of the backpack program are the food donations to the Salvation Army.
“We now want to serve 100 kids a week. Not as much food is being donated now. We can use all the help we can get. We need food and monetary donations are always welcome,” Salvation Army staff member Melissa Cline said.
To help, contact Cline or Lt. Josh Morris at 704-636-6491.
Partners in Learning plans to continue the program long-term.
“It warms my heart that all the organizations have come together to make the backpack program successful,” Harrison said. “Many of the families have gone through a rough patch and need the extra help. This is what many of the students often express to me, and they are very appreciative for this service.”
Communities in Schools and the Salvation Army are United Way agencies.