United Way helps students be Rock’n Ready for new school year


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With two daughters in college and twin sons in middle school, Beth Ann White said she could spend several hundred dollars just for school supplies.

Thankfully, Jackson County United Way offers the Rock’n Ready initiative.

Each year, the program is available for students in kindergarten through 12th grade at Jackson County schools and homeschoolers to apply to receive free school supplies.

A campaign is conducted in the summer to collect school supplies and monetary donations, and the supplies are given to the schools to distribute, either at a special event or on the first day of school.

On Saturday, White and her 12-year-old sons, Benjamin and William, entered the Brownstown Central Middle School gymnasium, signed in and then went around tables shaped in an L to receive backpacks, notebooks, pencils, glue sticks, erasers, colored pencils and more so they are ready for the first day of school Friday.

“It means the world,” Beth Ann said of the Rock’n Ready program. “It definitely helps us that are struggling. I started with four kids, and it was unbearable. My husband had to work significant overtime because it would cost $300, sometimes $400.”

With Rock’n Ready, the family doesn’t have to worry about buying supplies for Benjamin and William, who are beginning seventh grade.

“This is amazing,” Beth Ann said after walking through the line behind her sons. “The teachers come out, my kids are excited to see them, they are so positive and it’s a great way to start off the year. I’m really happy. It makes such a significant dent to come in and reconnect with teachers from elementary even, and they are volunteering their time. It’s excellent.”

William was particularly happy to receive his supplies all in one place because he doesn’t like shopping.

Rock’n Ready is really helpful and means a lot to William, who said he likes science the most and enjoys being around classmates.

“My friends and just learning a lot of stuff,” he said of what he’s looking forward to with the new school year.

Emily Engelking, director of engagement and development for Jackson County United Way, said nearly 700 kids in the county registered for Rock’n Ready.

Registration opened a month and a half early and closed July 2, but she said with the amount of walk-ins at the distribution events and extra supplies ordered, the number of kids served will be closer to 1,000.

“I think the biggest benefit is that the kids are prepared for the first day of school,” Engelking said. “There’s no worrying about having basic supplies, like pencils or paper, and the kids can focus on learning.”

For families, she said Rock’n Ready is a great resource for them to be able to save money they would have spent on supplies and put toward things like paying bills or rent.

“As we look toward our bold goal of moving 1,000 families out of financial struggles and into stability, we know that any money saved is one step toward that stability,” she said.

For teachers, Engelking said Rock’n Ready is good to be able to know their students are ready for the year, and it also takes some of the financial burden off of them.

This summer, several local businesses had school supply collection boxes, and a lot of supplies were donated during the Stuff the Bus campaign from July 9 to 14 at Walmart Supercenter in Seymour.

“I thought the drive at Walmart went great this year,” Engelking said. “We did have to cancel one day because of potential storms, but we still did so well with collections the other days. … We were able to raise almost $3,000 as well as received so many supplies to stuff the bus. We had around 80 volunteers from different groups and organizations who came out and made the days fly by.”

Whether it was time spent volunteering, money to purchase supplies or even a package of crayons or pencils, Engelking said she’s so grateful for anyone who gave to the program.

“Everything that one person does has the ability to help a child feel confident and ready for school, and nothing is too small to make a difference,” she said. “I was so blown away by our county’s generosity and excitement toward this program.”

All supplies collected were sent to the local schools. Brownstown was the first to have a distribution event, and Medora is having one from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday in the school gymnasium. Crothersville and Seymour chose to distribute their supplies on the first day of school, which was Tuesday for Crothersville and is Thursday for Seymour.

“If there are any needs, we encourage families to reach out to their child’s school for any of those extra supplies,” Engelking said.

Terry Jones and his sons, Gavin, 14, and Kody, 11, also attended Saturday’s event at BCMS.

Gavin, who’s going into eighth grade, and Kody, who’s entering sixth grade, both said they now have everything they need for school.

“It saves money, and you actually get to meet your teachers,” Gavin said of what he liked about the event.

“I like to come here to actually know what to do because I’ve never been to the middle school. I have my brother to actually help me around,” Kody said, noting he’s going to try to keep his grades up so he can play sports at school.

As a parent, Terry said a program like Rock’n Ready is beneficial.

“It means everything to me, especially the pandemic and everything going on, not just for me but just for everybody,” he said. “Not only that, they are going to have the food program this year that helps out a guy a lot. I’m disabled, so I’m on a fixed income, so this here means the world to me and for us. … I’m really thankful and appreciative.”

Susan Lawson, a seventh and eighth grade language arts teacher at BCMS, and Michelle Owens, a Rock’n Ready committee member, helped Brownstown students pick out backpacks at Saturday’s event.

“Just having the choice of what they want to pick, it’s a hard decision for some of them,” Lawson said, smiling. “I think it’s fun. I think they are excited.”

Picking their own school supplies meant a lot more this year, Owens said.

“Last year, we had to just hand out things that were packed,” she said. “This year, for them to go back to have the choice of what they get is nice. The kids just love to get to look through and pick their own things. I like to see the kids get what they need, but I also have heard several parents express appreciation and thank us for volunteering, so I think that’s great, too.”

This was Engelking’s first year leading the Rock’n Ready program, and she said she’s so lucky to have had a great support system of United Way staff, volunteers and committee members.

“Without their help and the community spirit, this would not have been possible,” she said.

Registration for the next school year will open in April 2022. Engelking said fliers will be sent to the schools for students to take home, those who registered this year will receive an email and information will be shared on the United Way website and social media.

“I’m excited to take what we’ve learned and improve the program to be even better in 2022,” she said.

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