As summer draws to a close and students head back to school, not everyone is able to return with the same access to supplies and resources to start their year off strong. One community aimed to change that. Addiction Prevention Coalition (APC), alongside several community partners, hosted a Back-to-School event that provided backpacks, school supplies, and a day filled with fun activities to roughly 500 youth.
“We serve Ensley, which is a lower-class community in Birmingham, Alabama. Our goal was to ensure that all students were able to return to their classrooms equipped with the tools they needed for a successful school year,” Michaela Smith, Media and Event Coordinator explained.
“Backpacks were donated by our partner, the Fritz Clinic, and healthy food samples were provided at the event by Bama Health Foods. We also had an Amazon wish list circulate among our community members and the response was amazing! Donations were arriving almost daily leading up to the event.”
Partners from all sectors combined their efforts to make this event a success. In addition to providing volunteers, Rock City Church donated their ample green space and parking lot to host the event. Fire trucks were parked nearby for kids to explore, free ice cream was provided, and a DJ kept the party going as games and gift card giveaways were underway. “This was probably one of the biggest backpack drives that we were able to do in our community. We just really wanted to send the students off to school in good spirits, and it was wonderful to see it all come together.”
APC also wanted all the community’s students to look fresh walking into their first day. A local barber donated his services, providing free haircuts for the youth in attendance. “We know that appearance can mean a lot to the students, and it can really affect their confidence. However, it’s not always something that can be prioritized when money is tight.” Michaela further explained that by offering these free services and donations, the APC was able to “meet people where they’re at” and reach new youth and parents about their prevention efforts.
The APC set up a “Resource Row” at the event, with tables manned by volunteers available to answer questions, speak about their work and provide information on prevention. To ensure that this message reached all participants, handouts were also included in each backpack they gave away, which included a tip sheet for teens, information on underage drinking, and rack cards with drug refusal strategies. “We really wanted to push that message into the homes of the students to make it especially accessible for the parents, as well as increase awareness about the strategies and resources available to them.”
As Michaela reflected on the event, she stressed the importance of collaborating with community partners and consistently striving to make new connections. “We always make sure to stay connected. When we’re not in our coalition meetings, we’re consistently mentioning the events we have coming up. You never know who will offer to help or who will be interested when you share your coalition’s mission. Then, it’s all about following up – by email, a simple text, or by inviting them to join your coalition’s membership list.”
“Overall, my advice is: don’t be afraid to reach out to new people and introduce them to the work that you’re doing. Something as simple as saying hello to somebody in the elevator can make room for a partnership that could be long and everlasting.”