Photos by Kelly Sue Photography
When school bells ring in Montgomery County schools this August, they signal not only the beginning of a new school year for area students, but the exceptional achievement of a highly motivated and passionate group of people in Montgomery County. Meet the more than 200 volunteers of Assistance League® of Montgomery County, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) agency. These men and women gave more than 51,000 hours of tireless service last year to improve the lives of the citizens of Montgomery County. Service was extended to the community through nine philanthropic programs offered by Assistance League.
One of these philanthropic endeavors is Operation School Bell®, a program whose main goal is to provide clothing for those Montgomery County students in kindergarten through high school who may not ordinarily enjoy the start of school in a new outfit. This new clothing is provided in hopes that the student will enjoy a higher level of self-esteem, and thereby have better acceptance by their peers, an increased desire to attend school regularly, and be encouraged to achieve a higher level of academic performance.
Names of students are submitted by their school counselors to Assistance League in the spring of each year, and parents receive a letter in mid-July directing them to take their child to one of four local businesses (Walmart, Target, JC Penney, or Burlington Coat Factory) for a shopping date. A specific dollar amount is allowed for the purchase of non-taxed clothing items, and a gift card to Payless Shoes is given as well. A milestone was achieved in the summer of 2015, as the total number of students receiving clothing in Operation School Bell® reached 50,000. This school year, Assistance League will be providing clothing for 4,750 kindergarten through junior high students for the start of school, and will be providing for high school students in September or October.
Assistance League of Montgomery County is one of 120 chapters across the country, under the umbrella of National Assistance League. The local chapter was formed in 1985 with 41 members, and has grown to the 200+ volunteers it now boasts. As Janita Love, President of the local organization stated, “Our members are people who are very passionate about our Montgomery County community and want to give back to the community. We have a group of people who go overboard to help others in any way they can. They are fabulous members, and we all enjoy working together toward common goals.”
The organization’s Mission Statement is “A nonprofit organization of volunteers dedicated to improving lives in Montgomery County through philanthropic programs.” Anyone who is interested in serving the community through Assistance League can join either as a Member or as a Community Volunteer. Members are required to work one day each month in the Thrift Shop and serve on a standing committee, as well as in one of the nine philanthropic programs. Community Volunteers are exempt from these requirements and can provide services as needed at Assistance League’s business location or from home.
The next New Member Information Coffee will be held on Wednesday, September 21, at 10 a.m. at the Thrift Shop. For more information, contact Gale Drummond, VP Membership, by calling (936) 760-1151 or by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The nine philanthropic programs, with Operation School Bell® being the largest, are:
• Assault Survivors Kits®
• Caring and Sharing
• Fans for Friends
• Operation School Bell®
• Pass It on
• Passport for Good Health™
• Poison Information – Always Ask™
• Tender Loving Care Dolls
In addition to grants and donations, these programs are funded through Assistance League’s Thrift Shop, located on the SE corner of N. San Jacinto and Metcalf Street. The Thrift Shop, voted “Best Thrift Shop” for the last 5 years, is open 10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. Tuesday – Saturday. This is a high-quality resale shop which relies on donations of gently used clothing, accessories, books, toys, collectibles, housewares, and furniture. Items can be dropped off during regular business hours each day. Donating used items and shopping at the Thrift Shop are two ways the public can be involved in giving back to the community. By doing so, citizens are helping to fund the philanthropic endeavors of Assistance League.
Items that remain unsold from the Thrift Shop are donated to other community agencies in Montgomery County. Receiving agencies agree to give the items “free of charge” to their clients. This Pass It On program maintains the integrity of all donations to Assistance League, as well as ensures all donations of any kind are used to benefit those in need in Montgomery County.
Assistance League’s motto, “Hearts that Care and Hands that Share,” is very fitting for the endless hours of tireless work by this all volunteer staff. The Tender Loving Care Dolls program, which produces an average of 50 – 60 handmade dolls each month, bears this out. The 25 volunteers serving in this program meet once a month to assemble the “boy” and “girl” dolls, whose parts have been fabricated and painted by individual members at home. Each doll sports a happy face on one side and a sad face on the other, and are used in situations where emotions of both the young and the elderly are in need of tender, loving care. These include use by Montgomery County ISD school counselors and Montgomery County Youth Services. Conroe Regional Medical Center distributes dolls to pediatric patients, and they are given to children who are undergoing court cases in the CASA program. Dolls are placed in The Gathering Place for the elderly who are suffering with dementia and Alzheimer’s, the Grief Resource Center in The Woodlands, and the local hospice camp. These handmade beauties, in addition to comforting and consoling their recipients, assure them that both sad and happy feelings are valid.
Another program offered by Assistance League which addresses concerns for the well-being of children is the Poison Information–Always Ask™ program. Prekindergarten and kindergarten students are informed on the dangers of poisons and are encouraged to ask whether a product in their home is safe or dangerous before ingesting. Cleaning products, including one such as Mr. Clean, can resemble a bottle of tasty Gatorade. Sudafed tablets can be mistaken for yummy Red Hot candies, and the list goes on. The volunteers use dolls for this presentation, and parents are directed to their website for further information.
Scholarships command a prominent position in Assistance League’s yearly budget. In 2007, four scholarships were presented to high school students totaling $16,000. At present, more than $100,000 is budgeted and distributed into a multiple-tier scholarship program, which assists graduating high school seniors, adults working toward certification in a health field, special needs individuals who can benefit from equine therapy, and adults needing to return to college to improve their quality of life. On August 6th, the yearly reception, Scholarship Celebration, will be held at Assistance League’s facility to celebrate and hear testimonials given by scholarship recipients.
Assistance League’s outreach does not end here. The other four philanthropic programs include:
Fans for Friends: Electric fans in the hot summer months, and warm blankets in the winter months are provided for individuals and families who cannot afford this relief.
Passport for Good Health™: Health care booklets are distributed to local hospitals and health clinics, who provide these to patients as record-keeping tools for storing up-to-date information on immunizations, medications, medical history, family contacts, and other pertinent information. New clothing for newborns, and neatly-packaged layettes are provided for distribution to parents who are economically disadvantaged.
Assault Survivor Kits®: The program’s goal is to assist assault survivors by providing them with “kits” containing clothing, toiletries, and other items to help comfort them as they receive medical care in an emergency room. The kits are dispensed through the Montgomery County Women’s Center. Art and play therapy items are also provided for counselors working with traumatized children.
Caring and Sharing: Developed in 2013, this program works to meet basic needs of the homeless and those in transition. “Welcome Home” baskets containing toiletries, paper products, cleaning supplies and other items are distributed through local agencies to their clients who are moving from homelessness to a home. Vouchers for clothing from the Thrift Shop are provided for community residents who are going to job interviews or who are in need of household items for shelters or new living quarters. One of the newest facets of Caring and Sharing is sponsoring birthday parties and Christmas parties for certain local complex residents.
The Vision Statement of Assistance League is “To be known in Montgomery County for improving the lives of all residents.” Although this goal has not been fully met, a multitude of lives have benefitted through these nine avenues of provision and care, and by the determination, energy, and compassion of a group of citizens who have a passion for enhancing the lives of those in need. The residents and agencies served by Assistance League of Montgomery County are in capable and caring hands. This is a wonderful place to call “home.”
For more information on Assistance League of Montgomery County, go to their website at www.assistanceleaguemont-co.org or call (936) 760-1151.