Join the Celebration

Posted on 09/4/2013 by | AARP Rhode Island | Comments

Kathleen ConnellBy Kathleen S. Connell
State Director, AARP Rhode Island
Published in Senior Digest, September 2013


Regardless of age, September can feel like the start of a school year. For me, it’s instinctive. I worked in public schools for 16 years and put my own children through school. And now I have a grandson we saw off to his second year of college the other day. It’s a lifelong cycle for most of us.

Back-to-school ads on television and hints of fall weather ignite our inner child and recall memories of the unique aroma of recently waxed floors and fresh school supplies — not to mention the melancholy and reluctant resignation to trading a sunny summer of play for days confined to much stuffier classrooms and weeknights dedicated to homework.

Actually, I get started thinking about going back to school in May. That’s when Rhode Island Back to School Celebration kicks off its annual campaign to have kids ready for school and excited about learning in the fall. Now in its ninth year, this is one of our state’s most inspiring events.

AARP Rhode Island is a long-time sponsor and Jorge Cardenas — a member of our Executive Council – is the president of Back to School Celebration. Deborah Miller, our unstoppable Associate Director for Community Outreach serves on the organization’s board of directors.

This all began with a modest effort to support children in struggling families. The first year, an ad hoc group proudly filled 300 backpacks with school supplies and handed them out in Providence.

Boy, did this thing take off like a rocket.

This year, some 14,000 backpacks were distributed at 11 locations from Newport to Woonsocket.  Even before the May kickoff event, this year-round all-volunteer effort is going on, including sponsor solicitation, outreach for donated school supplies and volunteer recruitment.  

Any parent knows that school supply costs add up, especially in large families. Back to School Celebration keeps back-to-school costs from sinking a tight family budget every fall.

This year we had the special privilege of a visit by AARP National President Rob Romasco, who came to Rhode Island not only to support this great event, but also to roll up his sleeves and lend a hand. After opening ceremonies at the William D’Abate School in Providence, he traveled to the West End Community Center in the city to pass out backpacks, working side by side with AARP Phil Zarlengo of Jamestown, a past chairman of the AARP national board. 

Connel_Romasco_ BackpacksI was delighted to join them and I can hardly describe how excited the children are as they receive their backpacks. Talk about volunteering being its own reward!

From the West End, we drove to Newport to observe backpack distribution at the East Bay Community Action Program. While there, we toured the new facility, which provides community-based health services, utilizing an innovative patient-centered approach to medical care.

Said Romasco at the Back to School Celebration opening ceremonies, “When people want to see how America can work, I say, ‘Let them come to Rhode Island … and see how a community can work together for the benefit of all families and the children who are our future.’”

He could not have said it better.

It is why AARP is involved and why I urge you to join us as a Back to School Celebration volunteer.

AARP works on many fronts to support communities, whether it is our broad Livable Communities initiatives, our Complete Streets advocacy here in Rhode Island, or efforts such as the public transit education workshops we conduct with RIPTA, our community-based diabetes support groups, the monthly community suppers we sponsor at the West End Community center or the work we have put into our award-winning senior hunger awareness documentary Hungry in the West End.

It’s all good. It keeps AARP active and engaged in communities where we meet people of all ages.

 That so much of our work is made possible with the help of volunteers is a Celebration in itself.