“I thought (the program) was interesting because there’s a whole lot of need in Belgrade and a lot of awesome people who want to help but don’t know how.”
Nearly 130 Belgrade students are homeless and far more struggle to obtain basic essentials like notebooks and pencils, socks or jeans.
Nicole Grafel has piles of backpacks, clothing and school supplies in her office to hand out to those kids whose families can’t quite make ends meet. The new homeless liaison and curriculum assistant for the district said people frequently drop off donations to help kids in need.
When low-income families are presented with the items, she said their reactions are both similar and simple.
Associate Editor, Good News, The Huffington Post
This organization in Montana is helping meet the needs of underprivileged students discreetly and respectfully.
My Student In Need, a nonprofit that services schools across the state, runs an online program where teachers request necessities and other items their underserved students need, while others can offer to fulfill them. What’s more, the students’ identities are kept anonymous in the process.
Since the organization’s launch back in 2013, donors have filled more than 1,500 requests for students in need. The group’s goal is to help students get adequate resources without making them feel uncomfortable, Kim Wombolt, the organization’s executive director, told The Huffington Post.
“No person ― whether it’s a student or an adult ― likes to be in a position where they have to ask for help,” Wombolt said. “By providing a forum for students to get assistance without having to publish that they are, they can ask for help with dignity.”
Butte is now one of 130 schools across Montana to use My Student in Need to supply local under-privileged students with everyday basics.
Founded in 2013, the confidential online nonprofit provides a list of approved items to students in need: school clothes, winter jackets, winter gloves, school supplies, bus transit passes, backpacks, sports equipment, some camp fees, personal hygiene supplies, and even lice shampoo if a parent is unable to afford it.
“Our teachers will be all over this,” said Jim O’Neill, curriculum director for the Butte school district.
He has already approved the no-cost partnership with My Student in Need. All nine Butte public schools are listed now online. No requests exist yet. School starts Tuesday, Sept. 6.
However, The Montana Standard will run its first list of local requests on Tuesday, Sept. 13.
Here’s the process:
A teacher posts the required need on the website, www.mystudentinneed.org. Student names are never used.
A donor sees a specific need listed on a specific school then inputs the user-friendly contact info on the website. Donors must contact My Student in Need directly.
The My Student in Need administrators contact the donor.
The donor chooses to send money directly to the school or the My Student in Need staff emails an electronic gift card to the teacher to share with the student.
The teacher then accompanies the student to the store to buy the selected item or buys it online.
The teacher then alerts the My Student In Need staff that the request has been fulfilled, then the post is taken down.
“Everything is confidential,” said Kim Wombolt, Great Falls, My Student in Need executive director. “We never know the student’s name.”
Students are encouraged to “pay it forward” by volunteering for a service project some time.
The nonprofit has the necessary software to provide a confidential, user-friendly website. Donors are not charged a processing fee online.
“We’re not asking for anything,” added Wombolt. “We’re actually giving the district a free resource.”
The Butte school district already has an in-district Shoes for the Sole program to provide new shoes for needy students plus a weekend backpack program to take groceries home on weekends. Butte High School Honor Society students stuff the backpacks and make them discreetly available for students of all levels.
The My Student in Need Program has grown into 18 school districts statewide.
“Lots of people fall through the cracks and aren’t able to get the help that they need,” said Wombolt.
Schools in Missoula, Choteau, Belt, Vaughn and Missoula use the program to supply students with basic items. Newspapers in those communities run regular public service-type notices.
Even if a student — not a parent — needs a twin- or full-size bed, for example, the program helps. Other items allowed as donations: new underwear in the package, shoes, winter boots, hats, scarves, bicycles, musical instruments, towels, and bedding.
Excluded are parents’ needs, such as vehicle expenses, gas, insurance, driver’s license fees, vehicle repairs, and telephone fees.
“We have a lot of people with needs who don’t know how to help themselves,” said Wombolt. “Why wouldn’t any school want this?”
My Student in Need is starting out the new school year with twice as many schools signed on for support compared to last year.
During the summer, My Student in Need added the Billings, Helena, Kalispell and Butte school districts to its online forum of anonymous needs requests.
My Student in Need was founded in 2013 as a project of My Neighbor in Need. It began in Great Falls and has now expanded to 18 school districts, totaling more than 130 schools in the program or working to join the program.
Teachers, counselors and other school administrators can log in to My Student in Need and submit requests for items that help eliminate barriers to a student’s learning and success. Some of the most popular requests are for winter coats, shoes and general clothing.
“No one thinks of a pair of shoes as a barrier to education,” Executive Director Kim Wombolt said. “But think about that student in the winter with holes in his shoes and cold feet. Simple, basic needs can be met and we can get rid of the barriers.”
When a teacher, counselor or administrator sees a student in need, they submit an anonymous request online to My Student in Need with a brief description of the age, grade and need of the anonymous student. Donors can select districts and individual schools to view the needs and can submit a request to fulfill the need.
My Student in Need usually disperses personal hygiene
My Student in Need usually disperses personal hygiene products in bulk to not single out individuals in need of products. (Photo: Photo courtesy of My Student in Need)
Of the 18 school districts partnered with My Student in Need, Billings, Great Falls and Missoula already have submitted a total of 26 needs requests for this school year. Great Falls accounts for 15 of these.
“We’ve fulfilled 1,500 needs in the last three years,” Wombolt said. “We’re averaging about 300 needs a year.”
Needs requests are often filled by monetary donations that are turned into gift cards. Teachers will often receive gift cards for general clothing items and either shop for their younger students or take their older students shopping.
Wombolt said last year Grammy-award winning trumpeter Arturo Sandoval donated a trumpet to a fifth-grader at Paxon Elementary School in Missoula after hearing word of a request through My Student in Need.
My Student in Need receives several requests for musical instrument rentals, Wombolt said.
My Student in Need hopes to add 200 more schools to its roster this year and have 300 schools by 2018. The nonprofit is in talks to expand nationally, but Wombolt said it is not quite ready yet.
Representatives from My Student in Need have been invited to speak in Florida at this year’s National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth conference about their program, its success and rapid growth.
Over summer break, My Student In Need nearly doubled in size.
At the end of June, 70 schools statewide participated in the nonprofit. Two months later, there are 130 schools participating, and My Student In Need executive director Kim Wombolt is being called to speak on the national level.
Since September 2013, My Student In Need has served as an intermediary between need requests and anonymous donors. It was born of My Neighbor In Need, founded in Great Falls by Dave Snuggs, a way for people to “ask for help with dignity,” Wombolt said.
“Nothing really seemed to be moving,” Wombolt said of My Student’s growth.
Thank you to the Alice Lee Lund Trust for the generous donation of $20,000 toward the expansion of My Student in Need in Montana. Beginning in the fall of 2016 in addition to the 70 schools My Student in Need already serves, Kalispell, Helena and Butte will be joining My Student in Need bringing the total number of schools with My Student in Need available to 103 schools. As the school year progresses, My Student in Need is working to add another 97 schools across the state of Montana. It is the generosity of the community and funder’s like the Alice Lee Lund Trust that make My Student in Need possible and allow us to broker goodwill and bring hope to the hopeless.
My Neighbor In Need kicked off its ‘Dime A Day’ campaign in Great Falls on Monday.
They are asking for donations to help fund their free deliveries and pay for operating costs.
The last two years, the organization raised roughly $28,000.
This year they are hoping to raise $40,000.
Organizers say they are sending out a mailer this week with more information about the fundraiser.
“We have a wonderful community here in Great Falls and we have grown tremendously over the last three years and that’s through all the support of this community,” said My Neighbor In Need director Kim Wombolt.
The Dime a Day campaign will continue until July 13th.
You can donate on the My Neighbor in Need website, in person at their office in Times Square building, or through the mail by sending your donation to 525 Central Ave #M2, Great Falls, MT, 59401.
My Neighbor in Need fulfilled its 1st need on March 21, 2012. After 4 years, we have, through the generosity of our community fulfilled over 6,600 Neighbor in Need requests and over 1,400 Student in Need Requests. Founder, Dave Snuggs originally hoped to fulfill about 200 need requests per year. Please watch our anniversary slide show and celebrate with us as we celebrate our 4th year anniversary.
A Special “Super-Duper” You Rock Award goes to the employees at DA Davidson who raised $750 last Friday during their Jeans Day promotion. In addition to their financial support, several employees also donated coats, gloves, hats and more winter apparel to help our Students in Need! Thank you goes out to the team members at DA Davidson.