The moment seems uneventful at first. The moving truck pulls up in the bright, cold October sun outside Scott Middle School. The subdued delivery marks the continuation of a little-known group of volunteers who for 35 years have provided financial assistance and supplies for Flint teachers and their students.
Boxes of paper, ink cartridges, glue, paper, scissors, crayons, pencils fill the back of the moving truck — bringing the total in gifts from the Flint Classroom Support Fund to more than $400,000 to date and more than $20,000 last year alone.
LIke many members of the Flint Classroom Support Fund’s board, Bernadean Clothier is a longtime Flint resident, a retiree, and determined to make a difference. Her measured, quiet tone carries the graceful authority and inherent kindness of a retired kindergarten teacher.
“I saw how much each of those dollars and cents meant for my kids,” said Clothier, a westside Flint resident. “As a teacher, I know how much they end up spending out of their pockets (and) how hard you work because you want to see every one of your kids succeed.”
For the fourth year, Sovita Credit Union partnered with the Flint Classroom Support Fund to collect supplies and funds throughout the summer to support every one of Flint Community Schools’ buildings.
“Even donations as small as a dollar to a pack of pencils help kids, and we take every cent and every donation to Flint schools,” said Jen Shew, marketing specialist at the credit union. “I’ve worked at the credit union for 19 years. I’ve grown up in this area. I went to school here. This is home, so for me it’s a chance to go back out and help, to take care, and do my part.”
The donations are especially helpful this year at Scott Middle School, which is new this fall. The building, which previously served as an elementary school, was closed for three years. It reopened after renovations including a new science lab and refurbished classrooms as the district’s only stand-alone middle school. It has 177 students.
“It’s been exhilarating. It's exciting and a blessing to serve these young people in our community,” says Principal Kelly Fields, who is a Flint native and graduate of Flint Community Schools. “We’re always trying to reach out to community groups like the Support Fund or really any group or opportunity that will help improve the education for our kids. We’ve been very been blessed through Sovita and the fund to receive the supplies we have.”
The support helps students and helps the school succeed, Fields said — and the big success story so far this year is a 95 percent attendance rate. “So kids are coming to school, which gives us the opportunity to bridge gaps in achievement or access, which are the common challenges we find,” Fields says.
Flint attorney J. Dallas Winegarden serves as president of the Flint Classroom Support Fund board. He joined the board after being asked to serve by Thomas Landaal, the former president of Landaal Packaging. “That was about 30 years ago,” says Winegarden.
“With the crisis in public education, especially in a community like Flint where we face incredible challenges, it’s vital that programs like this one and others that assist schools, teachers, and kids in making the education experience a great one persist,” he says. “By closing the gap on what teachers end up paying out of pocket, they can put more resources into educational outcomes for their students.”
Beyond supplies, the Flint Classroom Support Fund also give grants to schools to fund special projects. “One I’m particularly proud of is getting the portable astrology dome from the Longway planetarium out to the schools, and while some might laugh, we want the kids to see the stars in order to reach for them,” Winegarden says.
As the supplies are delivered at Scott Middle School, the class hour ends and students flood the halls, moving quickly to their next class. Clothier looks at each student individually, still a teacher, still figuring out how to best help each child.
Even after 35 years, she’s still looking for more ways — and for more people — to help build up all Flint kids.
“I live here. Flint is and always will be home. I volunteer one day a week and I think that can be the most important thing in helping the community,” she says. Clothier takes a breath and looks around the halls once more. “There aren’t enough hands, and you might be surprised by the feeling that awakens inside you when you try to make someone else’s life better than yours. I promise you, the difference you make will change you.”
Members of the Flint Classroom Supply Fund board are (front row) Jennifer Shew, Ann Parks, Irene Bracy, Patti Davis, Bernadean Clothier; (second row) Sean Croudly, Marel Staisil, Dr. Brian Tesler, Betty Ramsdell, Marian Garcia; (back row) Don Lada, Jay Clothier, John Henry, J.D. Winegarden, Superintendent Derrick Lopez, and Tim Bograkas. Not pictured Dan Cady, Julie Taylor, Herbert Winfrey, and Patricia Yuille.