A Festive Kick-off to the New Academic Year for Families at a Way Finders Residential Resource Center

September 15, 2021

As the last days of summer wrap up, and that first day of school draws closer and closer, families across the country engage in a familiar ritual. It goes a little like this: 

“Hmmm, where is your backpack from last year?” the parent asks, warily.  

“Um… I don’t know. Can’t I get a new one?” the child says, hopefully. 

The wish to kick off the new academic year with a fresh start—embodied by a new backpack—came true this September for many children living at a Way Finders Residential Resource Center in Springfield. Even better? Each backpack contained a set of grade-appropriate (pre-K through grade 12) books—including popular fiction and non-fiction titles, plus activity books—thoughtfully selected by Way Finders staff, for the children to keep.  

The backpacks were donated by the United Way to the Springfield School Department and distributed by the department’s homeless coordinator. The books were purchased by Way Finders through the Home Works program, awarded by the Department of Housing and Community Development, which extended funding for the academic enrichment of 75 children and teens living in two Way Finders emergency shelters. Books were selected off the 2021 Scholastic Summer Reading list. 

“We specifically chose some books on financial education for kids,” says Way Finders Program Manager Christie Bosley. “Because from what we’ve seen they don’t learn that in school. So we wanted to bring this info to them in a way that was more entertaining.” 

Program Specialist Phillicia Arthurton, an admitted kid at heart, helped make the give-away event feel decidedly festive: She exercised her talents in balloon art and event planning to make sure the event really spoke to and celebrated the kids. 

“Normally we just hand things out to families,” Phillicia says. “But I didn’t want this to be a regular pick up for supplies! I was really inspired to do something extra fun for the kids. We gave each child a tote bag, in addition to a backpack, that was their little goodie bag with snacks, juice, and a light up stick. The kids were excited about the balloons—they light up the world and add color and excitement! Afterward, I went up to some of the units and gave out some of the balloons to the kids. And it has been great to see the kids going to school, wearing their new backpacks. It was just a tremendous event.” 

An item that caused the most excitement among parents? The portable lap desk that each child received—a welcome way for children to have a flexible workspace, to read and do schoolwork, at home or on the go. 

“With the Home Works funding, we also purchased art supplies and a lot of hands-on science kits for kids, including a solar-powered car kit and a salt-powered robot,” says Christie. Her team plans to use these items with children during afterschool activities later this fall. 

Thank you, Department of Housing and Community Development’s Home Works program, for helping Way Finders families and children feel more ready and inspired for the return to school.