Around 700 students in Jackson County will have the basic school supplies they need thanks to donations to Jackson County United Way’s Rock’n Ready program.
Those students won’t have to worry about not having a new backpack to carry their books and folders in or pencils and paper to complete their assignments.
On Saturday morning, around 50 volunteers, all wearing neon orange T-shirts, filled the commons area at Seymour High School to make sure students picked up everything on their supply lists.
Many of the volunteers were teachers and staff from Seymour Community School Corp.
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In all, it takes around 250 volunteers to make Rock’n Ready happen, from collecting supplies to sorting and counting them and then readying them for the distribution event.
Also, about 100 people signed up to participate in the Rock’n Ready Run, conducted earlier that day, which raised money for next year’s event. New this year was a festival with live music, games and activities, and booths with information on community services available for children and families.
There even was an egg challenge with local celebrities where they had to crack eggs on their head to see who would get the raw egg.
Justin Brown, principal of Seymour-Jackson Elementary School, said Rock’n Ready is more than just giving kids free school supplies, it’s about giving them confidence and the tools they need to be ready to learn.
The Rock’n Ready initiative is in it’s third year and is geared toward helping children in low-income households be ready for the first day of school. In the past, United Way has conducted the Stuff the Bus School Supply Drive to provide supplies to schools.
Former Seymour-Redding Elementary Principal Dylan Purlee came up with the idea to get the supplies directly into the hands of the students instead of children having to ask teachers for supplies.
“We really noticed a need; of kids not coming to school with the basic school supplies they needed,” Brown said.
Not having school supplies can impact students in more ways than one, he added.
“They’re not ready to learn, and it affects their confidence and level of happiness,” he said. “We want kids to walk in on the first day of school with a big smile on their face, and if they have a backpack full of the basic supplies they are going to need then they have a lot more confidence and a lot more readiness to learn.”
Brown said it also says a lot about a community when it comes together to support each other.
For Sara Jones of Seymour and her three children, Mary Jones, 6, Audrey Donahue, 10, and Emalee Donahue, 13, the support from Rock’n Ready is appreciated.
Having three kids, all of whom need different supplies, the cost can really add up, Jones said.
“We love it,” she said of the event. “It saves us every year.”
She estimates by the time they have picked up everything, including backpacks, folders, notebooks, binders, pencil boxes, pencils, crayons, markers, glue, rules, erasers and other items, she has saved at least $150.
“I would say it’s around $50 a kid,” she said.
The money she saves in school supplies can then be used to purchase new clothes or buy food, she said.
Although the supplies are free, students still get the opportunity to pick out what they want from what’s available.
For younger kids that means the opportunity to have a backpack with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Spider-Man, Finding Dory or Frozen characters on it.
All items are either purchased by United Way or donated by individuals, businesses, industries, churches and other groups in the community. United Way organizes a supply drive outside Walmart and many places hold their own collections.
Any leftover supplies are divided among the schools in the county to provide to students throughout the year as they are needed.
Meredith Henry, social worker at Seymour-Redding Elementary, said Rock’n Ready is important to students’ success.
“They want to come to school prepared and be like everyone else,” she said. “This allows students to do that.”
Going back to school seems to get more expensive every year, Henry said, and for families with more than one child, it can be difficult to afford everything.
“Even if we’re not able to give them everything they need, we are able to give them a good start to fill that gap,” she said.
Monserrat Arrona of Seymour said she doesn’t know how she would be able to buy all of the required school supplies on her own. She brought her children to Rock’n Ready last year too.
“I have three kids, and this is so wonderful,” Arrona said of Saturday’s distribution event. “We are so thankful to the community and everyone who makes this possible.”
Axel Arrona, 9, said he was excited for the first day of fourth grade now that he had all his supplies.
“I feel like I won’t have to worry about anything, and I can just concentrate on learning,” he said.
Melissa Deckard of Seymour said she can’t thank those who support Rockn’ Ready enough, because of how much it helps her family.
“I’m a single mom with three boys, and this means so much to us, to know the boys have what they need,” she said. “It’s a blessing.”