September can set the tone for the entire school year, often including new clothes, new backpacks and new school supplies. Unfortunately, not every family is so fortunate as to be able to provide these for their children.
Twenty-five years ago, a small group of women decided to make a difference. They provided a backpack filled with new clothes and school supplies to 27 students at one school. Send ‘em Off Smiling (100% volunteer run) has since grown to helping 1,000 kids per year at schools throughout Waterloo Region.
During the year, volunteers shop the sales to assemble a warehouse of clothes, backpacks and school supplies. In the spring, teachers identify students who may benefit from receiving a filled backpack, and with the parent’s approval and input (such as sizes and colour preferences) volunteers prepare a personalized backpack. Other volunteers deliver the backpacks in late August. And the receiving students and their families — their smile says it all!
As a testament to the impact of this program, Send’em Off Smiling tells of former backpack recipients giving volunteer time and financial support to pay it forward to the next generations. What a great community we live in!
How you can help
If you would like to help Send’em Off Smiling, you can volunteer your time, donate money, or participate in their “Shop and Drop” program. Check out their website for more details.
We don’t develop courage by being happy every day. We develop it by surviving difficult times and challenging adversity.
Barbara De Angelis
Matthew is undeniably a very courageous teen and our Optimist Club was blessed to have him share his story with us at our September dinner meeting. He is a Childhood Cancer patient in the maintenance phase of his treatment. To demonstrate the steps of his journey over the past 2 ½ years, he pulled string after string of bravery beads out of a specially made wooden bowl. The strings just kept coming! Over 30 feet! Each bead represents some activity in his journey – every blood test, every treatment. The bowl is big and Matthew commented that “bowls are meant to be filled.”
September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, and Matthew and his parents gave us a glimpse into what it means to live the Childhood Cancer journey. Two 6 week stays in a hospital an hour away from home. Away from school. Away from work for parents. Not only is there the physical impact on the patient, there are emotional and financial impacts on the entire family. Fortunately, medical staff and hospitals around the globe share information and ongoing research which is improving outcomes.
Locally, there are supports to help families and patients cope, including:
Please consider supporting one of the organizations helping Childhood Cancer patients in our community. In honor of Matthew’s courage, our Optimist Club has made a donation to the Children’s Health Foundation to support the Music and Art Therapy programs.
If your group is youth focused and you would like to be a guest speaker at one of our dinner meetings, send us an email.