Deanna Johnson anxiously stood at the check-in desk, waiting to receive her student ID for her freshman year at Owens Community College. The process may seem simple – possibly even a burden – to most, but it was a big deal to Deanna, because it meant that this crazy “college” thing was really coming true. No one in her family was previously able to do this and she was honored to be the first.
While impatiently waiting for the desk attendant to finish printing her ID, she looked over and noticed a flyer for United Way’s annual backpack build, Kickoff to Caring. Deanna grabbed the flyer to get a closer look. She couldn’t believe that the event was going to be held at Owens Community College, her college.
“Thank you for your patience. Her is your ID, young lady,” the attendant smiled as she handed Deanna her student ID.
Deanna set down the flyer and excitedly grabbed the card, the official sign that she was now a college student – the first in a long line of Johnson’s to receive this privilege.
The attendant noticed the flyer sitting next to Deanna.
“Ever heard of the Kickoff to Caring event?” asked the attendant.
Deanna was all too familiar. Just two short years ago, Deanna’s family hit a very low point. Her Meema fell very ill and required frequent care from Deanna’s father. PTO could only go so far and eventually her father got laid off for how many sick days he requested, making it impossible to buy school supplies for her little sister, Jessica.
With her mother no longer in the picture, the whole situation took a large toll on the entire family – both mentally and financially. Jessica was just about to begin first grade and the family did not have enough money to pay for a backpack, let alone the supplies to fill the bag.
“Deanna’s father was beyond himself with grief. How could he send his daughter to school without a backpack, or even a pack of pencils?”
He shared his worry with Deanna and she thought desperately if there was any way she could help. Deanna looked up at the fridge and saw the magnet for United Way’s 2-1-1 service referral line. Her father normally doesn’t like asking for help, he sees it as a sign of weakness; but he didn’t have much of a choice at this point, so he made the call.
The 2-1-1 navigator recommended that Jessica register for a free volunteer-built backpack filled with supplies that she would be able to pick-up right at school. The suggestion sounded too good to be true. People giving away backpacks filled with supplies for free? Volunteers come together to pack backpacks for families like ours? Neither Deanna nor her dad could believe generosity like this existed in their own community.
Deanna will never forget the day Jessica received her backpack. The three of them headed to Jessica’s school to choose a backpack from a variety of colors and patterns. The hardest decision was if she wanted a blue or purple backpack. After much deciphering, she ended up choosing the blue one with polka dots and butterflies. Her contagious smile stretched from ear-to-ear and Deanna and her father couldn’t wipe the smile off of their own faces.
“Excuse me…have you heard of the Kickoff to Caring program before?” the attendant asked again.
Deanna was so lost in her flashback that she didn’t notice that she had not responded to the attendant’s question.
“Yes I have,” she replied eagerly. “My sister actually got one of the backpacks a few years ago! She absolutely loved it, and we could not believe such an amazing event existed in our very own community.”
“That is fantastic to hear!,” the attendant elated. She suggested that Deanna volunteer to pack a bag to help another family in the same situation.
This event was a major factor in her sister’s academic success. Because of this, Deanna knew that she would not be the only child in her family to attend college. She made the decision in that moment that if she could bring joy and excitement to another child the way it was brought to Jessica, she would not hesitate to do so.
Deanna secured the student ID in a small pocket in her wallet, grabbed the flyer, and marked her calendar for August 7. She was ready to start her school year off on the right foot, and pave a path for other first-generation college students to achieve their dreams.
*This blog post is based on a true story / success narrative from our annual Kickoff to Caring backpack build. All identities of submitted success stories are anonymous for privacy and story details have been added in order to provide a better understanding of the individual’s successes and struggles.