Backpacks for Kids: A Partnership Becomes a Friendship
PRA Health Sciences
PRA Health Sciences

Our PRA colleagues helped collect and stuff backpacks with school supplies for this year's Pride Backpack Project. Thanks, team!

Once again this year, our PRA colleagues in Raleigh participated in the Pride Backpack Project hosted by The Friends of the Guardian ad Litem Program, a collaborative community approach that helps change the lives of abused, neglected, and foster care children in Wake County.

We spoke with Guardian ad Litem volunteer Babs Wagner about the program and her personal connection:

Our PRA colleagues helped collect and stuff backpacks with school supplies for this year’s Pride Backpack Project. Thanks, team!

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Tell us about the Backpacks for Kids program. How did it get started and how does it help young people in need?

I initially became involved in a school supply drive about 25 years ago while volunteering in my son’s middle school. I was asked to help a young teen named Gwen who had recently had a baby and missed 60 days of school. She was very anxious to get caught up in her work and to pass the 8th grade. I quickly realized that she has no school supplies. I bought her some basics items and she was thrilled. She said, “Do you know how embarrassing it is to have to borrow notebook paper every day? Now I have supplies and want to come to school.” Of course I had never even thought about how something so simple could change a child’s whole outlook and self-esteem.

Most of us take for granted that we are able to provide the necessary school supplies for our children—how tough is it for kids who start school without those supplies?

I had never really been exposed to a world that revolved around poverty until I met Gwen and her sister Misha. For some children it is often a very scary, sad, chaotic existence. Daily life often includes very little stability or security. Some face homelessness, substance abuse, domestic violence, hunger, incarcerated parents, etc. And some live in very loving homes but still lack the means to adequately support their families. Often caregivers struggle daily to provide for very basic needs. There is rarely available funds for extras like school supplies, new clothes and shoes, or hair cuts that most children need to start a new school year.

These children are often overwhelmed with worries and concerns that no child should have to bear before they even walk out the door in the morning. But school is a safe haven. It’s clean, they are fed, and most of all they are hopeful and can believe that they can succeed. A new backpack full of supplies like “the rest of the kids” is a huge boost to their feeling of self worth and a feeling of being valued.

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Why did you get involved with Guardian ad Litem program and how has being a volunteer impacted you?

There are actually 2 groups:

The Guardian Ad Litem program is a division of the court system. As a Guardian Ad Litem, we are trained volunteers who advocate in court for children who come into the foster care system because of neglect and abuse. We investigate the circumstances and report our recommendations regarding the “best interest” of the child/children to the judge. We are the voice for the child/children.

The Friends of the Guardian Ad Litem is a 501 (c) non-profit founded in 1991. The mission is to raise funds for enrichment opportunities and unmet basic needs for children living in poverty in our community. Some are in the foster care system, some live in kinship care placements with relatives, and some come to our attention through involved professionals like school counselors, social workers, and other community partners.

I got involved when I realized that such small efforts could make such a big difference to the well-being of children. Being involved as a Guardian ad Litem and with the Friends of the GAL for the last 25 years has been the most purposeful part of my life secondly only to raising my own children.

Backpacks for Kids is just one program coordinated by Guardian ad Litem. Tell us more about the organization and the work that it does.

The Friends of the GAL provides

Tutoring and Educational Support, Refurbished Computers, Backpack Project, Holiday Gift Project, Camp Grants and Special Request grants for enrichment opportunities like funds for class trips, team sports fee, and unmet basic need such as food, clothing, bedding, etc.

Please see our web site or our Facebook page for more information.

Gwen Thompson shares her story:

I first met Mrs. Wagner when I was about 13 yrs. old. I was in 8th grade, pregnant and homeless. Both of my parents were addicted to drugs at the time. When Mrs. Wagner came into my life I didn’t care about going to school and didn’t understand why she cared. If I didn’t care, my parents didn’t care, why did this stranger care? After having my baby I would often try to use him as an excuse to not go to school. Mrs. Wagner would babysit and some days would take me to school.

I soon realized SOMEONE CARES! With her help and the Guardian ad Litem program I was able to get the school supplies needed. I remember my first “A” on a project Mrs. Wagner helped me with. She gave me a word processor so I was able to type up the report for the project. Guardian ad Litem program helped me tremendously, including the Holiday project.

Before meeting Mrs. Wagner, I believed my entire life would be a struggle and I would fail at anything I tried to accomplish. I was so afraid that I would become my parents. Mrs. Wagner gave me hope and the support I needed. I am now a married mother of 3 kids. I am a homeowner. I work as OR Scheduler for Duke Urology of Raleigh. I have no doubt that without Mrs. Wagner and the Guardian ad Litem program, I would not be where I am today. I would have dropped out of high school for sure.

My sister was murdered at the age of 17. I always say she and God sent Mrs. Wagner into my life. She is my “True Guardian Angel.”