July 23, 2016

From Isha-Charlie McNeely, BS, Founder, Back-2-School-Fresh, My Life Supervisor

Back-2-School-FRESH is Filling the Void of Financial Hardship

Back-2-School-FRESH (B2SF) is a non-profit that strives to provide children experiencing adversity and/or at-risk youth with strong and enduring connections to the assets and resources in their community. This is accomplished through an annual fair, which is scheduled for August 28, 2016, that provides free services and donations to all school-aged students. B2SF objective is to help assist low-income and minority families in making sure that each student that is connected with this organization is ready to go Back-2-School prepared and equipped to learn. Another way we serve our community is through our yearly Holiday Giveaway. Our mission with the event is to fill the void of financial hardship during the most important times of a child’s life: back to school and the Christmas Season. During the holidays we sponsor up to 20 families based on need, household size and other unique circumstances and barriers that may prevent families from being able to have an enjoyable and memorable holiday season.

Organizer’s Roots in the Community

To give you some history about how this organization started and has grown over the years, I would like to give you some background on why I think Back-2-School FRESH is important to me. I grew up in Northeast Portland and often visited a community center located in North Portland now known as Charles Jordan Community Center (CJCC). I attended the center as a small child. During that time the community center was a safe haven for me and mostly all of my peers. This was during a time where crime rates were high and lots of gang activity and drugs had hit the urban community deeply. This community center was a safe place for a lot of youth since the streets were not. At the center, I was given opportunities and had access to extra-curricular activities and classes, resources, and even meals.

As I got older, I became a volunteer and then later started working at the community center as the lead for after school programming coordinator. During this time, I became aware of the barriers that a lot of youth faced in that neighborhood. Like me, they were living in low-income and single parent housing, qualified for the free lunch program, and were minorities. Due to their environment, they did not have the access to things like new school supplies, appropriate materials, and utensils to do and complete their homework. That’s when I had the idea to start a closet of school supplies within the center that the youth could access so that they can complete their academic work and be prepared to go to school the next day. The closet began to grow and the youth became more engaged in the homeworker club program.

From there I decided to put on an event that would prepare youth to be ready and equipped with all their school needs on the first day of school. I chose the CJCC as the site host for having the event and they offered to be the school supply driver.  On the day of the event, we offer free haircuts and hairstyles to all of the youth, free back packs, school supply kits, new shoes and other clothing, manicures, books, food carts, face painting, carnival games, prize tables, gift cards, raffles for free senior portraits, bikes, and more. Live DJs are present and there is a two-hour free basketball and fitness camp as well as a robotic camp available for youth. Many community and local organizations like Multnomah County Library, Stoopid Burger, and Portland Parks and Recreation participate each year.

Achievements of the Event

This has now become an annual event that offers more than just school supplies. It gives our community and businesses a chance to give back to our children, plus fill a need in our neighborhoods and have some fun too. The next event is scheduled for August 28, 2016 and we hope to see you there.

Here is what we have achieved so far:

  • The annual event allows opportunities for people in the community to fellowship, unite and come together as a community to support each other’s needs.
  • B2SF was able to partner with Damian Lillard and Tim Frazier to give out exclusive Dame backpacks.  The two players spent their time hanging out with kids, playing pool and taking photographs with their fans.
  • An event where our community gives back to OUR community. Ninety percent of our donors are local.
  • ALL B2SF staff are local volunteers and/or community leaders.
  • B2SF services all of those in need regardless of income, race, sex, and any other disparities or differences. We believe ALL youth should have the right to education which is why we jumpstart the process by providing important vital resources and services.
  • The annual school supply drive has offered free services for students that attend to get haircuts, hair styled, free food, and resources along with school essentials.
  • B2SF has been able to give away 20 free senior portraits each year donated by participating professional photographers.
  • Over 1,300 families have been served every year since the beginning of B2SF.
  • Each year B2SF incorporates physical fitness activities for the attendees so they can start off the year with helpful tips on how to stay active and healthy throughout the school year.
  • B2SF was able to bring over 20 vendors in the community together for this event that provide services and resources for low income families.
  • B2SF has sponsored dozens of families during their annual holiday giveaway with brand new toys, clothes, and gift cards for families in need.

To learn more or to learn about ways you can donate, please go to https://www.gofundme.com/rd8ru8g