Heading back to school is always a nerve-racking time for students. Signing up for sports, having that perfect outfit, fitting in, standing out?| it can almost be overwhelming for a young mind. But for those students facing serious challenges, like homelessness or a physical disability, fitting in can be the toughest part.
??Fitting in, maybe blending in, just helps not be that one that stands out. We can??t take all the securities away from our children that they??re going to face, like any other child in the community, but we can help with some of these other things,?? said Diann Gilmore, executive director of the Downtown Women??s Center.
Diann and her team at the Downtown Women??s Center sent out a request to the Panhandle community asking for monetary donations to help provide gift cards for young, homeless children. The gift cards, ranging between $75-$125, helped homeless students headed back to school purchase a few new outfits for that first week. For many of these kids, it is the first time ripping off the new tags on clothes, instead of wearing hand-me-downs or thrift store finds.
??Everyone feels a little nervous about the first day of school no matter who you are. But our children, at least they don??t have to worry that they do not have something new to wear so start their first day of school,?? said Gilmore.
She said the outpouring from the community has been very positive and they have already been able to provide the families of the 60+ kids with gift cards to purchase those clothes.
On a completely different spectrum, Joe Chris Rodriguez is focused more on sports. His work as the founder of One Chair At a Time is bringing adaptive sports to the Panhandle and providing specialized wheelchairs and bikes to students battling disabilities.
??We want to mentor these kids and change their lives through sports and get them competing and helping them to feel a part of something,?? said Rodriguez.
Last year was the first year for the organization, and they were able to provide four specialized chairs to four high school students, allowing them to compete on their school??s track team. Rodriguez said that seeing their faces and the expressions of their parents when they were able to medal in a sporting event, alongside their peers, changed their lives and his.
??My motivation?| I think just to see them succeed in life,?? said Rodriguez. ??It gives them a goal and we try to find meets for them so that they can compete and feel like they??re competing at an equal playing field. They can do anything they want to, once they put their mind to it.??
For both leaders, their motivation is showing the children that, despite the challenges or difficulties they may face, they are still strong and intelligent children, capable of succeeding in whatever they do.
??They are just as equal and probably smarter because of what they??ve been through,?? Gilmore said smiling.