When Tiffany Bryant, a counselor at Herndon Elementary School, gave a package of school supplies to a poor boy enrolled at the school, she was met with confusion and distrust.
But when Bryant explained that the supplies had been donated by a Reston-based organization for students in the area who can’t afford the requisite folders, backpacks, pencils and calculators, he realized he would start the school year on the same footing as his more wealthy classmates, she said.
“He asked me, ‘Why are you giving this to me?’ and I told him that we were providing him with school supplies,” she said. “And a huge smile just crept over his face.”
The school supplies Bryant gave to the student came from Kids R First, a non-profit organization founded by former Fairfax County teachers. In the last six years, the group has provided 36,500 area economically-disadvantaged children with 375,000 units of school supplies.
“They make it possible for every student to have school supplies and not be embarrassed because they don’t have something,” Bryant said.
KIDS R FIRST was founded by Susan Ungerer, a former Terraset Elementary School teacher, who realized that retirement felt empty without doing something to help children — particularly those who are poor and disadvantaged.
“We’re retired teachers who still care about the needs of kids,” she said.
The organization provides students on free or reduced-price lunch with school supplies, bought at a discounted rate with contributed money. Last year, the group spent $45,000 to provide supplies to 9,500 students enrolled at 58 schools in Herndon, Reston, Sterling, Ashburn, Chantilly and elsewhere in Fairfax County.
“When you retire from being a teacher, you think ‘I’ll do art, I’ll write poetry.’ but then you realize that what you really want to be doing is something to help kids,” said Audrey Van Vliet, the Kids R First publicity chair and a former Forest Edge Elementary School teacher.
Every August, volunteers help unload trucks filled with school supplies into the Langston Hughes Middle School cafeteria, where the boxes are sorted and divided up for each school.
For the elementary students, the organization tries to have the supplies delivered before classes begin. In middle and high school, Kids R First works to provide the supplies as soon as the students find out the required materials for their courses.
“Ninety-nine percent of our funds goes right to the kids,” Van Vliet said.
NOW THE ORGANIZATION is preparing to host a major fundraising golf tournament in Reston to meet the growing needs of needy students in Fairfax and Loudoun counties.
Ungerer and Van Vliet said they are hoping Parent Teacher Associations, school business partners and others will help sponsor the tournament.
Most important, they said, is simply to raise the level of awareness throughout the county that not everyone in the area can afford the basic supplies so often taken for granted.
“For a lot of these families, it’s either buy school supplies or buy food. Or it’s that or rent,” Van Vliet said.
Bryant said families can usually buy their own pencils and paper at dollar stores and the like, but Kids R First can help provide the more expensive items like backpacks and costly calculators. Overall, the impact of the school supplies can make a major impact on a child’s education, she said.
“It’s an organization that really cares about the kids,” she said.
For that reason, Bryant, along with her school’s principal and two others, said they will be among the foursomes playing in the golf tournament next month.