Thinking back to your elementary school days, what did you look forward to most about a new school year? Meeting a new teacher, seeing your friends again or picking out new school supplies?
What brings so much pleasure to students—and sometimes equal displeasure to parents seeking an elusive item on the school supply list—is unfortunately not shared by all. New school supplies simply aren’t options for many families in our community.
Kate Schwartz, fund coordinator and research nurse for the Department of Neurology, knows this all too well. Born and raised in Ukraine, she grew up with very limited resources and school supplies. When she learned that United Way of Central Maryland was collecting backpacks and school supplies for
students in need, she jumped at the opportunity.
“Access to school supplies lies close to my heart,” she says. “Kids need basic tools to get a good education. It really comes down to pencils and pens to help them learn.”
According to United Way, two out of every 25 students won’t graduate in Central Maryland. If a student can’t read on their grade level by third grade, they are four times less likely to graduate by age 19. Lack of backpacks, notebooks, pencils and other school supplies only presents another barrier to success, which is why United Way’s education initiative helps students in need by setting them up for a successful academic year.
With these statistics in mind, Schwartz teamed up with Katrina Odom, neurology and neurosurgery senior administrative coordinator, to organize a back-to-school supply drive in the departments of neurology, neurosurgery and neuroscience. They set up six collection boxes around The Johns Hopkins Hospital and distributed a list of supplies needed for each backpack.
“When my three daughters were young, I remember buying three backpacks and three sets of supplies, and it was a bit pricey,” says Odom. “This helps to ease the burden for someone else.”
By the end of the four-week drive, the departments collected enough supplies to fill 60 backpacks. “When I called United Way to schedule a pickup, I told them, ‘I hope you have a big enough car!’” laughs Schwartz.
Through United Way of Central Maryland, the backpacks were distributed to students in need at Henderson-Hopkins Elementary and Historic Samuel Coleridge-Taylor elementary schools. Both schools are part of United Way’s Family Stability program, which helps prevent students from having to switch schools due to homelessness.
This is the third year that employees have participated in a backpack drive through the Neuroscience Community Innovation Council, but the first time that it benefited United Way. Neurologist Amanda Brown established the council in 2015 to give the three departments a way to give back to the community.