A CHANCE TO SHINE: GAKAC's expansion deemed a success as 1,850 students are served

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By all accounts, expanding Bartow Give a Kid a Chance to five locations this year was a tremendous success. 

The 12th annual back-to-school event set up shop this summer at different sites — the Bartow County College and Career Academy in Cartersville and Allatoona Resource Center in Acworth on Saturday and Summer Hill, NorthPointe Church in Adairsville and Kingston Baptist Church on Sunday — to give more students the chance to get the supplies and services they needed for their first day of class Aug. 7.

Expanding to five sites — the most ever — to make the event more accessible to families with transportation obstacles worked out “great,” according to GAKAC Director Barbara Hoffman.  

“It was definitely more work on the logistical side of getting the school supplies to the various locations, but with the assistance of the Good Shepherd Foundation, we were able to get it done,” she said. “We learned a lot this first year that will make things go more smoothly next.”

Planning committee member Lori Patch said adding more locations this year helped answer the question the committee had about how to reach more children. 

“We knew there were more that needed supplies, and we just weren't getting to them,” she said. “Whether it be logistics or other reasons, some kids just couldn't make it up to the main campus [BCCCA].” 

Creating a site at the ARC in south Bartow two years ago was “a huge success,” Patch said, and the addition of Summer Hill last July also helped extend the event’s reach. 

“Last year, there were several organizations trying to target children in their pockets of Bartow County, and Barbara Hoffman was able to bring them in under the Give a Kid a Chance umbrella and give them additional tools to make what they were already doing more effective,” she said. “From my understanding, branching out really began with Barbara and Todd Dean with the Circle of Advancement combining forces for the event Todd was working hard to create in Summer Hill. The Circle of Advancement already had the community support in that specific area so that they could more effectively serve those kids that might not be coming to the traditional Give a Kid a Chance event.”  

Other organizations were “doing the same thing in Kingston and Adairsville” this year, Patch said.

“Adding in these locations was a great collaboration between different community-minded groups, and I think more children were served this year than ever before,” she said.

Splitting the event, which is sponsored by Bartow Collaborative, into two days also enabled more families to attend. 

“Having the option to choose between Saturday and Sunday and morning or afternoon times is a big help,” Hoffman said, noting the 310 volunteers served 50 more students than last year due to the changes. “Especially for parents who work weekends, which many of our families do.”  

The 1,850 Bartow County and Cartersville City at-risk students in pre-K through 12th grade who went to one of the sites received book bags, school supplies, a new T-shirt and a meal, and some locations also offered free haircuts, health screenings and personal care items like shampoo, deodorant and toothpaste, Hoffman said.

During the event, the Cartersville City Schools nutrition department provided student meals at the BCCCA and the ARC, and 42 hair stylists from Chattahoochee Technical College as well as the community gave 335 free haircuts.

The Bookmobile visited both the ARC and Adairsville locations, and the Bartow County Library System gave students free reading books at BCCCA.

Adairsville had bounce houses and a petting zoo while the ARC had a bounce house, popcorn and sno-cones. 

“Felt like a festival at both,” Hoffman said.

Two dozen other community nonprofits and businesses also were on hand to serve the families, and many educators were on site to welcome the students.

“Having the principals and other personnel from all the schools in the county at every location to meet the students and their families has become one of our family favorites,” Hoffman said.

The director also gave props to two groups who helped with the set up — Harvey Evans and Bartow County Facilities Management and the Cartersville High Purple Hurricanes. 

“Cartersville High School football coaches brought 27 of their football players to unload the hundreds of pounds of paper and other school supplies,” she said. “With their help, we were able to set up at the academy in four hours on Friday —   record time. They were a huge blessing.”

Bartow County School Board member Anna Sullivan, a three-year volunteer, said the event provides “such a fun, upbeat atmosphere that helps connect families to our schools in exactly the right way.” 

“One of the first steps to help children succeed in school is for them to feel excited and positive about the start of the school year,” she said. “It’s hard for children to be excited when they feel as if school places a burden on their family, and it’s impossible for parents to feel positive about it when they are unable to provide even the most basic tools for their child’s success. Providing haircuts, school supplies, even an introduction to school principals and teachers during the ‘offseason’ are such small things but lead to big successes.”

Sullivan said GAKAC does “so much more than provide a few backpacks or some pencils.”

“This event shows children and families in our community that we treasure learning,” she said. “It provides tangible support for their efforts at helping children succeed. Most of all, I believe it is one of the hallmark events that demonstrates what Bartow County values.” 

Staying “closer to home this year” by volunteering at the Adairsville site, Sullivan said she was “so impressed” to see inflatables and The Bookmobile outside the church as well as volunteers giving manicures and haircuts, distributing school supplies and cooking more than 1,000 hot dogs inside the church. 

“Teachers and principals from Adairsville High, Middle and Elementary, along with Pine Log and Clear Creek, had lots of information for the families as well as special treats and hugs,” she said. “It felt like a community picnic or gathering.”

During her time there, Sullivan said she handed out T-shirts to students and gave out free books from The Bookmobile toward the end of the day. 

“This event is just pure joy for volunteers,” she said. “Yes, there is a lot of work that goes into setting up and preparing for the event. But then you get to see a kid’s face light up at finding ‘the’ perfect backpack or talk to parents who just want good things for their children or find so very many people from all over our county who want children to succeed, and it’s so much fun to be a part of that.”

New Cartersville Middle School Principal Matt Gibson and Woodland Middle School Principal Michael Blankenship both went to the BCCCA to help out this year. 

Gibson, who has volunteered with his wife, Cassie, for several years, said the event “supports so many needs for our youngest citizens.”

“It is amazing the outpouring of love and support behind this event,” he said. “Give a Kid a Chance provides services that ease the anxiety of the start of school for many of our students.” 

The three-year volunteer said he was able to meet many of the students and families from his new school and had an “opportunity to provide a few basic supplies and encouragement for the year to come.” 

Blankenship, volunteering for the second year, said he was “amazed at what is provided for students and their families” at the event. 

“The people of the community truly respond and come together to ensure that the students in this county have what they need for school,” he said. “I initially thought this was just a school supply event. But it is so much more than that. In one stop, a kid can get school supplies, hygiene products and a haircut, to name just a few things. The students and families of Bartow County are blessed to have such a caring community of people.”  

Blankenship said he was on hand to talk with students and parents; give them basic information about transitioning to middle school, the upcoming open house and transportation; and “just answered any questions students or parents had.”

For Patch, who also volunteered at the academy, GAKAC brings back memories from her own school days.    

“It really spoke to me because I remember being so excited to get my school supplies each year as I prepared for classes to start,” she said. “So many children in our community don't get to experience that luxury. GKC allows all of Bartow's children to experience that excitement and anticipation of a new school year. It is a fun, exciting day, and we try to make the kids feel excited about school and allow them to walk through those school doors feeling confident and ready to learn.”

The four-year volunteer said she donates her time each year because the students are “the future of Bartow County, and we must support them however we can.”  “Selfishly, it is such a fun day and really feels so rewarding to be a part of this group,” she said.