On July 21, 2015 Kira Sears-Elliot, YMCA Program Executive Director for Magnolia & Tomball Texas, spoke to the Rotary Club of Magnolia about the 2015 YMCA Backpack Program.
Kira told the group that Operation Backpack is a program of the Greater Houston YMCA and is held annually to give out backpacks and school supplies to many kids who can't afford them. Operation Backpack was started by a retired pastor (Jamie Clark) who still is part of the program today. Mr. Clark decided that many kids hate going back to school because they don't have enough money to buy a decent backpack and supplies at the beginning of the school year. Mr. Clark brought the idea to the Greater Houston YMCA and the rest is history.
Kira told everyone that of the 1700 backpacks given out last year (2014), the Magnolia Rotary Club donated $1450 to the program in 2014 and hoped the club would do the same this year (2015). She also told everyone that the YMCA partners with Intercept Ministries, Inc in Magnolia Texas to organize and get the donated backpacks to the children who need them. Intercept Ministries is where all kids who want a backpack have to sign up (this prevents kids from getting multiple backpacks) and where all the backpacks and school supplies that are received are stored until given out. Kira told everyone that HEB has provided all the school supplies in previous years and is expected to do the same this year. Any supplies left over are given to local schools to use in their classrooms.
The goal this year is to give out 2,000 backpacks and the program kicked off on July 15, 2015 and runs through August 9, 2015. Kira stated that she is using kids from YMCA camps to help stuff the backpacks with supplies and that this next Thursday, YMCA staffers will start beginning to go out and pick up donated backpacks. All backpacks must be turned in at least one week before schools starts which Kira thought was August 24, 2015 this year. If this is accurate, backpacks would need to be turned in by August 17, 2015.
When the time comes, the selected kids will be given the chance to go into the warehouse at Intercept Ministries and pick out their own backpack for use at the beginning of school. That is when their faces will light up with large smiles.
In addition to the backpack story, Kelly McDonald told everyone about her trip to the Blue Ridge YMCA Camp with Kira recently. Kelly told us that both her father and her grandfather had been Rotarians and she remembers a story her grandfather told her about being really poor when growing up and once a year, a local rich man would come through town and pick two or three kids to go to summer camp with all expenses paid and that her grandfather had been picked one year and that she had even received a $1,000 scholarship from Rotary as a kid. Because of this, telling the story was emotional for her as she knows first hand how important going to camp was for her grandfather and how important that $1,000 scholarship was for her.
Kelly told everyone that she went with 4 other members of the YMCA leadership to the Blue Ridge Camp and saw the smiling faces on the kids who were lucky enough to attend. She said that some were from affluent families but that many were quite poor. Specifically, she told us about a boy who had no parents and was living in shelter. However, a YMCA member has got him an interview with the Navy and he had landed a full ride in the Naval Academy. This will surely turn his life around.
Kelly told us that she tried to talk to kids who were from the Magnolia area and found out that 13 kids were from the Magnolia area and that one of the boys at the camp (his name was Avery) had been picked to come back in January 2016 to help plan next year's camp agenda. This boy was previously in a bad place and could have ended up in a gang or worse but the YMCA camp had turned his life around.