Alabama – Tuscaloosa University of Alabama Retirees Association
On April 27, 2011, a tornado over a mile wide hit, Tuscaloosa, Ala, and left a six mile path of destruction killing 52 people and destroying everything in its path. In six minutes, 12 percent of the city was destroyed, 7,000 people became unemployed and two elementary schools were ruined, along with thousands of homes, businesses and so much more. Families lost everything. Many had only the clothes they were wearing.
In the aftermath, the members of the University of Alabama Retirees contacted the City of Tuscaloosa School Administration to ask how they could help. A counselor said that she had just the project. The Children’s Place, a nationwide chain, had donated new clothing and it needed to be distributed.
A team of 20 Tuscaloosa University of Alabama Retirees Association (TUARA) members got together to work on the distribution project. The retired educators realized they needed help. The project needed a distribution center, not an easy task in the busy month of December. Holy Cross Lutheran Church became a host site and gracious partner.
They also needed help with moving the boxes of clothing, etc. One member’s grandson enlisted the help of his Delta Sigma Phi fraternity at the University of Alabama, Birmingham (40 miles from Tuscaloosa). These young men in turn were joined by their brothers in the University of Alabama chapter who were also very willing to help.
In just three days, they worked together to deliver bright The Children’s Place bags of new clothing to 229 families representing 554 children.
TUARA retired educators, The Children’s Place, Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Delta Sigma Phi fraternity brothers, the families - who received the greatest gift? Although we will never know, I suspect each facet will long remember its own special portion of the great joy experienced by all.
Pennsylvania – Blair County Chapter
Sparks have been flying in the Blair County Pennsylvania Association of School Retirees (BCC-PASR), and the best powers of retired educators’ minds were the inspiration for three projects this year.
The first local initiative was created in 2008 through the efforts of two members who wanted to provide hope and financial support for post-secondary education for children who have a strong work ethic and good attendance, but because of family circumstances often do not believe they can achieve education beyond high school. (In the Altoona Area school district, 57 percent of families qualify for free or reduced lunch.) They named the project SOAR.
During the 2009-10 school year, a pilot group of 20 junior high students was identified to participate. Parents and students signed contracts that indicated that in order to stay in the program, the students needed to maintain an 85 percent or higher GPA, a 90 percent or better attendance record, have no serious disciplinary infractions and attend a monthly after-school session with out-of-school mentors. After three years in the program, the average GPA of the group is 90 plus and the average attendance record is 97percent. Additionally, eight more students were added for the 2011-12 school year, and 10 more will be added in 2012-13. When asked, “What do you like best about SOAR?” almost all students indicated their favorite part of the program was meeting with a mentor. More than half of the mentors are retired school employees and members of BCC-PASR.
The second inspiration came during the 2011-12 school year, when members started a Backpack Project and focused on one elementary school with a very high rate of poverty. Volunteers meet on a rotating basis with other volunteer groups to fill the backpacks with enough nutritious food for the child during the weekend. Filled backpacks are then delivered by PASR volunteers to the school offices. Students in need pick up the backpacks at the office on Friday afternoons and return the empty backpack to the office each Monday morning. National data indicates that Backpack Projects provide children with nutrition, ease their anxieties, reduce absenteeism, improve attention span, raise academic performance and increase self-esteem. Knowing that at-risk children will have food for the weekend must bring great joy to the children and to the volunteers as well.
The third project was fueled in 2008 when the BCC-PASR group began donating to First Book, and they have continued to do so on a regular basis. Members have given thousands of books to children in poverty through the First Book project. As an offshoot of the donations, members have been assisting the fund-raising efforts by also donating books. One member serves on the board of directors of First Book of Blair Co. Although there is no direct contact with the children, the outcome of this effort will provide the opportunity for a lifelong love of books and reading.