Good Neighbor Center, other agencies help prepare kids for class

With the first day of school fast approaching, parents across the Tigard-Tualatin School District are getting ready to send their children back to class next week. Many have already stuffed backpacks full of new school supplies in anticipation, and Jack Schwab is no exception.

In fact, he stuffed 60 of them.

As director of the Good Neighbor Center homeless shelter on Southwest Greenburg Road, Schwab is doing his part to make sure needy students across the district are getting the supplies they need to do well in school.

“There are a lot of people for whom a free education still comes with expenses. It’s not really free,” Schwab said. “School supplies are expensive and getting more expensive. Clothes are expensive. People who are homeless or trying to stabilize their housing situation don’t have the money to throw at the latest school fashions. Even buying a backpack, pencils, erasers, crayons, that’s a lot. Every little bit helps.”

Every year the shelter donates the backpacks to students staying at the homeless shelter and to families living in housing units the shelter operates.

“These are families that we have helped get into permanent housing,” Schwab said. “We work as a case manager or help them in subsidized rental programs. They are part of what we (at the shelter) consider our extended family.”

Each family in the shelter’s extended family received a backpack for each of their children, filled with supplies and a gift card for a new pair of shoes.

“They are not homeless now. But they once were, and they are still struggling. They are still in the grip of poverty, so to give a kid a backpack full of school supplies for school is a really good thing for them,” he said.

It’s a small gift, but it can make a big difference in the lives of kids, Schwab added.

The Good Neighbor Center is far from alone is its back-to-school charity. Community Partners for Affordable Housing — which operates seven affordable housing apartment complexes in and around Tigard — distributes backpacks to its students each year as well, and the Caring Closet, the Tigard-Tualatin School District organization on the Tigard High School campus, gives shoes, clothes and school supplies to thousands of students each year.

“This is not a problem that is Washington County or Tigard specific,” Schwab said. “This is a regional problem. It’s statewide, it’s nationwide.”

Having a nice pair of shoes to wear or a backpack to carry your supplies may seem simple, Schwab said, but it can mean the difference between failure or success for some students in need.

“It’s a natural need. Every kid out there needs a new pair of shoes at the start of the year, whether they are rich, poor or living in someplace else, like Afghanistan. Everyone needs new shoes,” he said.

Having a new backpack and supplies also helps with their self-esteem, Schwab said. “Everybody else is showing up with a new backpack.”

The shelter tailors the backpacks and school supplies to fit each individual student, Schwab said.

“We know each of these families personally,” he said. “These are kids that we have known for years.”

The shelter handed out 43 backpacks to students this week and plans to keep more than a dozen to hand out to families who will be moving into the shelter over the next few months.

“Some of those families might be going to new schools, or maybe they aren’t in a situation where they have been able to go to school for awhile,” he said. “Every little bit helps.”

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