All across the state, children are heading back to school. In some cases, students may be returning to the classroom after more than a year of remote learning because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
In many communities, students and families struggle to pay for the school supplies they need, and the economic impact of the pandemic hasn’t made it any easier. Teachers, too, may have limited resources to outfit their classrooms.
Volunteers with the Alabama Power Service Organization (APSO) and with the Energizers, the company’s retiree service organization, are among those who are helping to bridge the gap as children begin a new year of learning.
From Mobile to east Alabama, APSO chapters have been collecting pencils and paper, pens and notebooks, filling backpacks and helping distribute needed supplies to children. One chapter has helped equip a special sensory room at a local school – a place where children grappling with stress or other challenges, or who have special needs, can enjoy a brief respite that can help them get back on track.
“Many of our members have children of their own in school. They see the challenges many students and teachers face as the school year begins,” said Jacki Lowry, a community development specialist for Alabama Power and APSO state president. “They are eager to do what they can to help get the school year started right for students and families – and the teachers who are so important.”
For example, one Saturday earlier this month, members of APSO’s Mobile chapter participated in the Southwest Mobile County Chamber of Commerce drive-thru “Kids Day” event, where some 1,100 backpacks filled with school supplies were distributed to children in need. During the event, APSO members assisted with registration and provided snacks to the children.
“So many people came out,” said Sharon Murrill, president of the Mobile APSO chapter. “The event was scheduled to go from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., but because of the turnout it didn’t end till 2 p.m.”
In north Mobile County, members of the Plant Barry chapter of APSO have a special relationship with Hall Elementary School. Each quarter they treat Honor Roll students to doughnuts, and bring Santa and books to the school at Christmas. They also help keep the school well-stocked with needed supplies.
This summer, Plant Barry employees have been raising money to help outfit the school’s new sensory room with a variety of needed items, including books, sensory toys, weighted blankets and calming music. Volunteers also plan to paint murals on the sensory room walls.
“Our folks have really responded,” said Stacy Walley, employee development coordinator at Plant Barry who is leading the sensory room project. “The sensory room is a great addition to the school, and we’re really happy to do what we can to make it a great space for the kids who need it.”
In the Birmingham area, members of the Magic City APSO chapter are purchasing water bottles to distribute to students at area schools. Because of the pandemic, students are required to have their own water bottles.
The Magic City chapter is also providing supplies for the Kidzone at the nonprofit Lovelady Center, which serves women transitioning back to the community after time in prison or who are dealing with other crises. The Kidzone provides mothers in the program with full-service day care for their children.
In the Southeast corner of the state, APSO’s Southeast/Farley chapter is continuing its “backpack buddies” project at Eufaula Primary School and other schools in the region. The project provides easy-prep meals and nutritious snacks for elementary schoolchildren to take home over the weekend. APSO members in other locations around the company’s territory also have ongoing supply drives for local schools.
Members of the Energizers retiree service organization are also involved in back-to-school efforts supporting children.
For example, Energizers Dennis and Chris Turner, members of the Plant Gaston chapter, have spent hours helping at Elvin Hill Elementary in Columbiana, part of the Shelby County school system, to get the library ready for the new year. And down in Headland, in Henry County, Shannon Sampson, a member of the Energizers’ Southeast chapter, has helped purchase, fill and distribute backpacks loaded with school supplies for children heading back to class at Headland Elementary School.
Meanwhile, APSO and Energizers members are looking forward to other opportunities to help schools throughout the year. Many APSO members take part in school reading events, with literacy among the priority projects for the organization in 2021. This year, APSO is celebrating 30 years of helping communities across the state.
In all, members of APSO’s nine chapters have logged more than 5,000 hours supporting worthy causes in 2021 despite the pandemic, which has limited face-to-face volunteering. Instead, volunteers have provided support to schools and nonprofits virtually or while maintaining social distancing.
APSO members include employees of Alabama Power and parent company Southern Company who live in the state, as well as their family members.
“Supporting children and education is part of APSO’s mission, and definitely where many of our members’ hearts are,” said Marsha Morgan, a project manager with Alabama Power’s Charitable Giving organization who serves as APSO’s executive director. “The new school year is a great time for our volunteers to show that love for children, and for the schoolteachers and administrators who play such an important role in their education.”
To learn more about APSO and the Energizers or to request volunteers, please visit www.powerofgood.com and click “Volunteers.”