Opinion Columns & Blogs

Helping school-age children builds a stronger community

A couple of years ago, I helped a friend who was making the transition to middle school from an elementary school that, evidently, didn't believe in math. To his credit, the kid really wanted to learn and suggested we enter a contract.

“What should the contract be about?” I asked.

“My study habits,” he said.

And so our contractual relationship began.

My young friend is a talented artist and chose a font that would have been appropriate for the Declaration of Independence. I contributed my legal skills, by translating the terms of our agreement into flowery legalese that sounded very official.

I use this example to show that kids need certain things to thrive. This is a good time of year to consider ways to support schools and families in their efforts to set younger people up for success.

Although the Little Red Schoolhouse’s big push this year is over, kudos to all of the people who worked to provide clothing and school supplies to 900 families and 2,879 students in our community at their annual distribution day last month. That’s 539 more people served than last year.

Local schools are preparing to meet the increased need for basic supplies throughout the school year, and, if you are so inclined, you can help by donating school supplies or writing a check for a school district’s needy children fund.

The Tumwater School District is also starting a clothing bank. Items in high demand are coats, jeans, and shoes in all sizes and larger-sized clothing for teens.

Another great way to help is to support the For Kids Backpack Program, which sends food and basic hygiene supplies home for the weekend with elementary school kids. A joint effort of the Thurston County Food Bank and The Other Bank, this program is designed to serve families with children who qualify for free or reduced cost lunches at school but who need food for the weekend.

Now in its third year, the program serves about 950 kids every week in 31 schools in North Thurston, Olympia, Tumwater, and Griffin school districts. Consider donating toothbrushes or travel size toiletries for this worthy program — or the kinds of food that might be included in a sack lunch.

Other opportunities are available through the Volunteer Center of Thurston and Mason Counties. The volunteer center enters into partnerships with organizations like Capital Kids Connection, a group devoted to helping children in foster care in Thurston County, or Save Our County’s Kids, a group that offers juniors and seniors in high school guidance and resources, including micro-grants, to complete their senior projects.

A school near you may need someone to boost a child’s self-esteem as a mentor — or someone to assist a child with basic skills, as a tutor.

In my view, helping school-aged children is one of the most basic ways to build a stronger community. But then, I’m the daughter of a woman whom people called if their children were in danger of failing English. I am also the granddaughter of a woman who let the first graders she tutored call her “grandma” because she claimed it was easier for them to remember than her actual name. For my part, I was happy when I saw the young friend who persuaded me to sign a contract about his study skills, a year or so after my tutelage. He informed me that he was doing well in school and getting his homework done on time — most of the time.

“Wow,” I said. “Would you say you’re maturing?”

He smiled. “Well, I wouldn’t say that,” he said.

Kiki Keizer, a lawyer working in Olympia, is a member of The Olympian’s Board of Contributors. She can be reached at olympian.opinions@gmail.com.