Isabelle Miller keeps asking her parents one question.
Tomorrow refers to her first day of kindergarten, a big day for Isabelle and her parents, Cody and Elizabeth that comes after Isabelle went through a tough illness. Thursday afternoon, New Hope Ministries in Hampden Township gave the family a much-needed boost through its Back to School Daze Craze event.
“She had cancer so we both couldn’t work,” Elizabeth said. “We didn’t have a lot of money and this helps out a lot. It helps you get prepared and excited for school.”
Families left New Hope with new backpacks filled with school supplies as well as some extra food including chips, tortillas and even MREs. Haircuts and vision screening were also offered for students, and families could enjoy snacks like popcorn and hot dogs.
“This is the time that we help each one of those children because education is real big at New Hope. We can give back to the students that come through the doors and their families so they don’t have to feel that their child can’t go back looking like everybody else,” said Sue Fornicola, program director for New Hope Ministries.
Recycle Bicycle was on the scene fixing up bikes that parents are bringing in that aren’t always in the best shape, Fornicola said. Others in the community donated popcorn and popcorn machines.
“All this stuff comes together because people donate and give to it,” Fornicola said.
Matt Schwalm, owner of Barber Styling Institute, said helping at the event is a “win-win” in that their students get practical experience while preparing kids to go back to the classroom.
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“It makes people feel good about themselves to get a backpack and a fresh haircut to go back to school and boost their confidence getting back into school,” he said.
The event means a lot to families who face the decision of equipping their children for school with the proper supplies or making sure they have food on the table, said Pennsylvania’s Department of Human Services Secretary Teresa Miller, who visited the event.
“It’s everything,” said Shaqueda Doub of Mechanicsburg, as she watched her soon-to-be second-grader, Josiah Rowland, get a haircut.
With five boys, one in college, two in high school, one in middle school and one in elementary school, getting ready for the school year can be a challenge. While the event helps the boys get ready for school, it’s also a great help to Doub.
“I don’t think it’s really them. It’s more like me, taking a burden off of me having to buy school supplies and book bags and haircuts,” Doub said. “They probably don’t even realize how much of a help it is, but it definitely takes a burden off of me.”
The event is also an opportunity for New Hope to showcase its programs for children, such as Petals. Petals is a weekly class to prepare children ages 2-5 for kindergarten. But, the event also showcases programs for the parents, like Road to Success, a workforce development program that is run in partnership with the United Way.
“This is an awesome time that families can come here ... and they get to know all the programs that we have to offer,” Fornicola said.
Following a tour, Miller sat down with New Hope Executive Director Eric Saunders and Fornicola for a wide-ranging conversation about what New Hope Ministries offers and where that can intersect with programs offered by the Department of Human Services.
“Our missions are very much aligned. It’s all about how do we help lift people out of poverty and get them into training programs, for example, that will allow them to get a living-wage job and ultimately support themselves going forward,” Miller said.