At 3 p.m. today, Riley Children’s Foundation, the fundraising organization supporting Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health, granted $5,000 to Boomerang Backpacks at Warsaw Community School Corporation.
The program was began by former students Alek Jansen and Connor Singrey for their Kosciusko Youth Leadership Academy White Paper Project. The students, who were juniors at Warsaw Community High School at the time, worked with WCS Head Nurse Tracey Akers to bring weekend nourishment to low income elementary students by providing backpacks filled with food. In addition, the program helps inspire high school students to experience community services through project based learning as well as garner an understanding of assisting those in need.
“I serve on the board of government for Riley Hospital on the grants committee,” stated State Rep. Rebecca Kubacki. “The Boomerang Program came to our grants committee which is how we connected. I was so glad when I saw that the grant came from our kids because I thought, here are great kids doing great things – I was so proud of them. I thought, that’s my community and look at the great things they are doing!”
According to Akers, last year the program offered weekend food items to approximately 155 to 165 students at Lincoln and Leesburg elementary schools. This year, Akers stated the program will be expanding to Harrison and Jefferson schools and hopes to provide backpacks to approximately 300 to 350 students in grades kindergarten to third.
When asked if the growth could continue in future years, Akers responded, “I would love for it to. The first initial thing was that we were hoping to get into as many elementary schools as possible and we started at the lower grades because they seem to have a better need and there were more kids that were willing to take the food. They (students) were very responsible about getting the backpacks back and they don’t have as much of a stigma with taking the backpacks as the higher grades. We really have a good relationship with the kids and the parents, I think, see the need so its been very successful so far.”
Program costs are approximately $100 per student per school year. Though the program does receive funding and support from numerous organizations, the gift from Riley Children’s Foundation is one of the largest.
When asked what set this project apart for Riley, Kubacki stated, “I think the committee of the kids is what set this project apart – the fact that the kids took on this project. We get a lot of professional grants that were written and I felt like we really need to emphasize that these kids were doing something good and they should be rewarded for what they are doing. This is a perfect example of a community coming together to help kids and the vehicle is these high schoolers. They are awesome.”
Akers stated that a major goal of the project is to help improve students’ Friday attendance as it is necessary to be present to pick up a backpack. In addition, Akers hopes the program will allow students better academic performance on Mondays as they were able to have nourishment over the weekend.
Kubacki also had a personal message to share with students working with the Boomerang program: “You can’t rely on government to solve all of our problems. At some point, you have to take responsibility to help others. And that exactly what they have done. They have taken responsibility. They’ve seen the need and they got it done.”
Riley Children’s Foundation worked with the Warsaw Riley Regional Leadership Committee chaired by Dr. Dane Miller regarding nominations and to select the grant recipient.