As need grows Scottsdale community picks up back-to-school effort

A view of collections at the Vista Del Camino Community Center meant for the Covering the Bases Back to School 2015. (Independent Newsmedia/Terrance Thornton)

A view of collections at the Vista Del Camino Community Center meant for Covering the Bases Back to School 2015 to be held from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 5. (Independent Newsmedia/Terrance Thornton)

Various outreach agencies, community members and public institutions are doing what they can to make sure 1,500 Scottsdale students attend day one of the new school year ready and confident to learn.

Scottsdale Stadium, 7408 E. Osborn Road, will play host to Covering the Bases Back to School 2015 from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 5 as families from across Scottsdale will be able to shop free of charge for precious school supplies and clothes.

While many from the outside looking in, Scottsdale social workers say, may believe the community of Scottsdale to be free of community concerns stemming from what many consider to be impoverished conditions.

About 8 percent of Scottsdale’s population — 226,918 — lives beneath the federal poverty line, according to the 2010 Census. A gross annual income less than $23,350 for a family of four is the median poverty line in the 48 contiguous states, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

What in year’s past has been a segmented effort within outreach centers like the Vista Del Camino Community Center and Boys & Girls Club of Greater Scottsdale has now blossomed into a communitywide event serving more than double the children who were touched in years past.

The Vista Del Camino Community Center, 7700 E. Roosevelt St., serves as an outreach hub that aids residents and provides services ranging from job search assistance to emergency food boxes, city officials say.

Scottsdale partners for the effort, amongst others, include the Scottsdale Unified School District, the city of Scottsdale, the Boys & Girls Club, Police Officers of Scottsdale Association, Partners for Paiute Neighborhood Center, Concerned Citizens for Community Health, Family Promises, Scottsdale Charros and the Arizona Law Enforcement Outreach and Support. In the private sector Kohls, Walmart and Payless ShoeSource have continued, and in some cases, increased their donation levels for the back-to-school drive, Scottsdale city officials say. In addition, free-of-charge health screenings will be provided at the August event made possible through the Neighborhood Outreach Access to Health program offered by Honor Health.

For a Scottsdale family of four to qualify for the back-to-school program the household can gross no more than $3,925 monthly, Vista Del Camino officials say.

A continuation of efforts

Scottsdale Unified School District Superintendent Dr. David Peterson says the goal of this year’s drive is to reach 1,500 students — some of which will not be attending an SUSD school.

David Peterson

David Peterson

The effort, Superintendent Peterson says, is to help those who need it regardless of district boundary lines and charter school competition.

“We have a lot of community members who have said, ‘this is important and I want to do it,’” he pointed out. “They will be, on day one of the new school year fully ready to come to school and succeed.”

While some drive recipients will not be SUSD students that does not mean significant need is not present at the district as about 28 percent or 8,000 students qualify for free or reduced lunch, according to federal poverty guidelines, numbers show.

Those numbers mean too many children are starting the school year ill-prepared for the challenges coming, Superintendent Peterson says.

“They feel good, they look good and they don’t have to worry about the things that they don’t have,” he pointed out. “The need has increased, but that need has always been here. Most people are shocked when I tell them 28 percent of my student population qualifies for free or reduced lunch.”

Superintendent Peterson says having the right school supplies can make a big difference in the academic career of any student.

“It is not a matter saying where are you going to school, it is a matter of we want to help you,” he said. “I think if we look back to our own childhood that first day of school, you are so excited,” he recalled of his own experience. “I think that it’s important student starts out with needs met.”

Vista Del Camino Manager Gene Munoz-Villafane says Scottsdale seeks to pick-up the efforts this year and in years to come.

From left are Vista Del Camino employees Eddie Durazo, Gene Munoz-Villagane and Rosita Pinedo who spearhead the back-to-school effort annually. (Independent Newsmedia/Terrance Thornton)

From left are Vista Del Camino employees Eddie Durazo, Gene Munoz-Villafane and Rosita Pinedo who spearhead the back-to-school effort annually. (Independent Newsmedia/Terrance Thornton)

“We have an executive director Bill Murphy who wanted to elevate the program to serving more students and we actually brought SUSD into the fold,” he said in a July 21 phone interview. “The 1,500 figure was something we talked about several months ago. The idea of opening it up to the greater community and to bring greater partnerships to the table.”

Mr. Munoz-Villafane says need in Scottsdale stretches the municipal borders.

“It is not foreign to us, it may be unbelievable to the average reader,” he said. “Today it is just more of an acknowledgement of the fact that there are students who are starting the school year at a disadvantage.”

Mr. Munoz-Villafane says between 15 and 17 community partners have joined forces to aid Scottsdale students.

“There is a peak of interest, there are a number of folks who just want to help,” he pointed out. “I think it is imperative to give these students a fair chance of walking into school with pride.”

The community steps up

The Boys & Girls Club of Greater Scottsdale, a sponsor of the back-to-school drive, is also hosting its own 30 Days of Shopping program thanks to the generosity of Town of Paradise Valley residents Michael and Ellie Ziegler.

Michael and Ellie Ziegler surrounded by recipients of the 30 Days of Shopping program at the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Scottsdale. (Submitted photo)

Michael and Ellie Ziegler surrounded by recipients of the 30 Days of Shopping program at the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Scottsdale. (Submitted photo)

Community and civic leaders for decades, the Zieglers have teamed up with the the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Scottsdale with a singular mission: To give children, regardless of socioeconomic factors, the opportunity to start the school year off on a level playing field.

“From that mission, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Scottsdale’s ‘30 Days of Shopping’ initiative was born in 2013,” said Ellie Ziegler in a prepared statement. “By the end of this summer, we will have helped 3,000 children in this community.”

During the ‘30 Days’ events, which kicked off with a lively shopping spree for Club kids on July 10 at Kohl’s in Desert Ridge and Scottsdale and continued with similarly sized sprees through August, 1,000 selected youth from the Clubs each received a $100 Kohl’s gift card — courtesy of the Zieglers — to pick out clothing and other needed items for the new school year.

“Youth selected for the events are Club members and identified to participate in the events based on greatest need,” says Ms. Ziegler. “We also help members at the Club’s Peach Springs Branch located on the Hualapai Indian Community, who will shop at the Kohl’s Flagstaff location throughout the summer.”

As well as helping prepare children for the upcoming school year, the events allow community partners and businesses to engage directly with youth from the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Scottsdale.

“Volunteers from organizations including Kohl’s, Scottsdale Active 20-30 Club and Valley of the Sun Active 20-30 Club have helped us put this program on in various forms for more than a decade,” says E.J. Hughes of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Scottsdale. “But to have one couple — in the Zieglers — step up to ensure so many greater-Scottsdale children — from Paradise Valley to Scottsdale to Fountain Hills and even on the Salt River Pima Maricopa Community — get what they need for the new school year is truly inspiring.”

Northeast Valley Managing Editor Terrance Thornton can be contacted at tthornton@newszap.com

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