A great start for schoolPublished 10:41pm Thursday, August 16, 2012
Dozens of Dowagiac elementary school students will kick off their first day of school in style, thanks to Thursday morning’s 2012 Great Start event at Target in Benton Harbor.
Six Royal Excursion touring buses transported 156 Dowagiac and Cassopolis students, with parents, to the store in Benton Harbor at 7 a.m. to buy school clothes, supplies and necessities. For a little more than an hour, the store, products and Target staff were exclusively available to the groups. The program, in its sixth year, is hosted and funded by the McLoughlin Family Foundation, who modeled the idea from professional golfer Phil Mickelson. Teachers and administrators work together under the parameters of hard work ethic, good attitude, good attendance and financial need to pick 20 students from each elementary school.
First- through fourth-grade students selected are then sent a letter informing their parents of the opportunity to use $200 toward clothes, backpacks, supplies and shoes.
“They can use the money however they would like, as long as they get what they need for school,” Emily McLoughlin, a family member and member of the foundation, said. McLoughlin said, when the foundation decided to begin the program, it received a positive response from Target.
“They’ve always been great and so helpful with this,” McLoughlin said.
Since the children are chosen based on classroom behavior and financial need, Cindy Gumpert, executive assistant of the foundation, said the experience is more like a reward.
“This goes to children who really deserve this,” Gumpert said.
For Julie Schoff, who will have five children to prepare for school in a few short weeks, the program and opportunity were lifesavers. Her daughters, Trianna and Kenya Lee, chose new clothes for school, as well as backpacks and a book.
“I can’t even explain it,” Schoff said while browsing the young girls’ clothing section. “I know they were excited, but five kids total to buy for, I was extremely excited.”
Kenya and Trianna agreed the best thing they got on the trip was the clothes.
Melissa Sampson, mother to Sam Adams Elementary School first-grader Anastasia, said the invitation surprised her.
“Not all kids get a chance like this,” Sampson said. “I was so proud that she was chosen.”
Anastasia said that, while the shoes department was her favorite, she wanted to get something for her 4-year-old brother, too.
“So he doesn’t feel left out,” she said.
Parents were also allowed to split the funding between children.
Dowagiac Supt. Mark Daniel attended the event, explaining he was happy to watch kids get the supplies they needed to do well in school.
“It really regenerates hope,” Daniel said. “People coming together to help those that are in need …. It reminds you of the goodness in people.”