Self-confidence opens doors. When one feels like they belong, they will. As school ramps up for another year, students who feel good about what they are wearing will have a clear advantage to fit in wherever they choose to make their mark.
The Assistance League of San Luis Obispo County works directly and confidentially with school personnel to identify students who would benefit most from a shopping trip with one of its volunteers. The program is called Operation School Bell and in 2014-15, the group will shop with 1,200 students countywide six days a week in September and October at Kohl’s in Paso Robles and Old Navy in San Luis Obispo.
“I like to say new school-appropriate clothing boosts confidence and self-esteem, allowing students to concentrate on school work,” said Gail Stoneburg, serving her second year as president of the league. “They can develop their social peer group instead of worrying about fitting in.”
At the beginning of the school year, volunteers go to the schools to discuss the program and receive the referrals. Then, at the end of the school year they’ll talk to teachers and see how the students thrived.
“One middle-grade teen was extremely withdrawn,” Stoneburg said. “She had very little. Once she shopped, her homeroom teacher told us her school work improved and she reached out to make friends.”
For the first time, Operation School Bell will include grades 9-12.
“We clothed some high school students through our Homeless Collaboration,” Stoneburg said. “There was such a need and we saw shopping made a huge difference. At first they won’t know what they want to buy — maybe they’ve never shopped before. By the end of the shopping experience, they are excited. We know we’ve made a difference.”
Statistically, 40 percent of Morro Bay High School families are living at the poverty level. Cayucos Elementary has 37 percent and Los Osos Middle School is at 49 percent. Stoneburg said they can’t afford to clothe all in need. Last year, the group shopped with 32 out of
336 eligible students at MBHS, seven of 30 at Cayucos and 17 of 188 at Los Osos Middle School.
Stoneburg was overwhelmed that her group just won $10,000 through the My Favorite Charity promotion developed by PG&E and KSBY-TV.
“We were shocked, but it validates we’ve done the job getting the word out about Assistance League and our programs. We’ll be able to shop with 100 more students,” she added.
“Watching these kids come alive after not seeming to care if they participated is the most rewarding and uplifting experience I’ve ever had — except shopping with my own granddaughters,” concluded Stoneburg.
She encouraged other potential donors and volunteers to check out Assistance League’s website www.alslocounty.org.