The Rotary Club of Mercer Island, in partnership with the Stroum Jewish Community Center (SJCC), recently made a large donation of winter clothing and other items to Rising Star Elementary School in Seattle.
They delivered hundreds of items — winter coats, T-shirts, sweatshirts, rain boots, rain jackets, hats, gloves, lunch boxes, reusable water bottles — to the school on Thursday, Sept. 26.
Members of the Rotary also volunteered as tutors at the school through the club’s tutoring committee, a partnership which has existed for about 10 years. They work with students in kindergarten through second grade one-on-one or in groups, helping with reading skills and sometimes basic math.
“I have found the one-on-one time more rewarding and also more effective,” said John Hamer, Islander and Rotarian who has been a member of the tutoring committee working with the students for four years.
“I want to do good. I want to help these kids. I think it’s possible to make a difference for some of these kids,” he said. “These kids are the future of America. If they fail, we all fail. If we leave kids behind, we’re toast. These kids are hungry to learn, hungry to succeed.”
At the school they primarily work with family support worker Nina Bowman, and Communities in Schools site coordinator Kam Yee. They also work closely with individual teachers, as each tutor gets assigned to a particular classroom, visiting once a week.
When the Rotarians asked staff at the school what more they could be doing to help, they said that many of the students were in need of winter clothing and coats going into the colder seasons. So a clothing drive was suggested.
Hamer is also a member at the SJCC, where he says he often goes to workout. One day while he was there, he said he noticed the SJCC’s lost and found room, which was full of many plastic bins of kids’ items. He asked staff what they did with unclaimed lost and found items, and they told him they normally donate them to Goodwill. It occurred to him that the hundreds of items could be given to the students at the school, and when he asked if they would donate them to the Rotary for the school, he said they were thrilled to do so.
“The Stroum Jewish Community Center values efforts like this that make the whole community stronger,” said Amy Lavin, SJCC CEO.
So Hamer and his wife, Mariana Parks, and her sister, Teresa Hunt, spent several days laundering and sorting the items. They grouped articles of clothing into labeled bags or boxes according to size and type.
He said many of the items were in great shape, practically new.
On the Sept. 26, he and his neighbor, John Faith, a fellow Rotarian and tutor, loaded their two SUVs with at least 10 large boxes of clothes and items. They met up that morning at the Mercer Island Community Center with other Rotary members — including Karolyn Streck, who also tutors at the school — and they all carpooled to the school together.
When they dropped the items off at the school, Bowman and Yee and a few teachers came out with a cart and stacked the boxes about eight or 10 feet high, Hamer said.
Streck said it was a powerful and delightful experience making the delivery.
“It was really fun,” Streck said. She said when they dropped off the donation they got to see some friendly faces, including teachers and the school librarian, whom they hadn’t seen for a while.
Now that the school year has started again, they can go back to tutoring regularly.
“I’m excited to start tutoring again,” she said. “It’s been a real exciting thing to have such a positive connection with the children and make a positive difference in their lives.”
She said at this school there are many single-parent families and a lot of severe poverty. She said she feels this type of work, including clothing donation, is important and can greatly impact how a student feels.
She was aware of one student, in a similar situation at a different school, who had worn out hand-me-down clothes, passed down from older siblings. She was so embarrassed that she would hide behind the supports in her school building.
“It’s an opportunity to make a difference in one child’s life,” Streck said.
The school, formerly called Van Asselt, is in south Seattle on Beacon Hill. Hamer said the school is in a low-income area and that many of the students are recent immigrants.
The families at the school, according to the school’s website, come from five different continents and speak more than 20 different languages.
Hamer said the Rotary would definitely make a similar donation in the future, perhaps involving a greater community effort, and he thinks the SJCC would be happy to make such a contribution again — although it would take some time for that amount of lost and found clothing to once again accumulate.
Streck and Hamer also each mentioned current discussions with the school about doing a book drive in the near future.
Hamer said sometimes there can be a false stigma about people on Mercer Island being isolated, in a place of privilege, and not wanting to reach outside of their Island. He disagrees and thinks there are opportunities to help others.
“This is the kind of project that shows Mercer Islanders are kind, generous, good-hearted people who want to help the broader community, including more challenged neighborhoods in Seattle,” Hamer said.