Bright Futures Kickoff: BV graduate shares impact of program on her life
The community leaders helping students through the Bright Futures Berryville don’t do it for recognition or thanks, but at the third annual Champions Breakfast on Tuesday morning, they got to hear a firsthand account of the impact the program has had on students’ lives.
Elizabeth Kelley, a 2018 Berryville High School graduate, shared the story of how Bright Futures champions pulled together the funds and resources for her to get her car repaired, enabling her to pursue a future she never thought was possible before.
“I never saw myself going to college,” Kelley said. “I thought I would just go to work after school to continue paying for everything I was. I was living on my own, paying rent and bills and paying for a car that could hardly get me to work.”
She continued, “I was working 35 hours a week and sleeping through my first four classes almost every day. I was trying to save up to fix my car. It was an extremely stressful situation, and I didn’t think I would get through it.”
Kelley said she approached high school counselor Tiffaney Atkinson, who connected her with the Bright Futures Berryville program. She said Bright Futures champions Shawn and Lori Holland helped her get tires and the necessary parts to fix her vehicle so that she could drive safely to work.
“I am extremely grateful to Shawn and Lori and everybody who helped me because I’ve graduated and am getting ready to move to college here in a couple of weeks,” Kelley said. “That’s something half a year ago I didn’t see myself doing. What you guys did was a large factor in it.”
She said she was amazed to see all the people at the Champions Breakfast who put in so much effort and money to help kids who need it.
“I’m extremely grateful that I benefited from that and I’m here where I am today,” Kelley said. “I’m going to Fort Smith in a couple of weeks to attend college. I’m majoring in psychology, and I’m extremely excited. It really means a lot. Thank all of you.”
Bright Futures coordinator Mindy Hicks welcomed community leaders to the breakfast.
“We’re honored that you have chosen to spend some of your time with us this morning to celebrate your support and re-energize as we begin our new year,” she said. “Our community is so supportive of our school and our students, but you guys already know that because you guys are the ones being supportive.”
Hicks continued, “We appreciate the time you give, the talents you provide for us and the treasures we can use for our students. We hope you know that.”
She said the program would continue using the green Bright Futures shirts from last year and reiterated that “#My42” on the back of them is a reference to the fact that people who volunteer their time to help others are 42 percent more likely to be happier and healthier.
“To represent that, we have #My42 every month,” Hicks said. “On the fourth Tuesday of every month, we wear our green shirts.”
She encouraged volunteers to send her pictures of themselves wearing the shirts to show the community support for Berryville students.
Hicks also updated the volunteers on the programs Bright Futures holds throughout the year, such as Pass the Bobcat Pride. She said the program is entering its third year and provides Bobcat shirts to students who don’t have them so they can show their Bobcat pride at school events.
“We thought when we started it that it would be a popular program in K-5,” she said, “but it has actually been popular in the high school. Each homecoming week, we passed out the Bobcat shirts we have and served at least 50 to 80 students in just our high school. They are excited to get their first Bobcat shirt or another one that fits.”
Hicks encouraged community members to donate any Bobcat shirts they no longer wear for students.
She said Bright Futures also holds a laundry day once a semester, giving families in need the opportunity to wash their clothes for free.
“It’s pretty enlightening to see people pull up with a truck full of garbage sacks of laundry,” she said. “We might do 50 loads for one family. If we have the time and resources while we’re there, we do it.”
Over the past year, Hicks said they spent $939 washing an estimated 450 loads of clothes for families.
Advisory board member Jamie Casey discussed the Lunch Buddies program, which pairs students with community members who can spend their lunch hour listening to students.
“This program is really awesome. We work with school counselors and staff to establish which students would benefit from Lunch Buddies,” she said. “It has been a major turnaround for some of these kids to have someone come in and listen to them, remember what they talked about the time before and check in on them.”
Casey continued, “For the first time in some of these kids’ lives, they really feel like they’ve been heard. This program is super close to my heart. We have a list of kids who still need lunch buddies.”
She said the Lunch Buddies meet one to two times a month.
“I encourage you to become a Lunch Buddy,” Casey said. “You tell me what times work for you. You will be rewarded if you become one.”
Also at the meeting, the Bright Futures Berryville advisory board recognized the Volunteer of the Year and Business of the Year.
Hicks announced that Katie Swofford is the Bright Futures Volunteer of the Year.
“She’s a real go-getter. She serves on a site council, and you will see her face at every event,” Hicks said. “If she can’t be there, they make sure someone from the business they work for can be there. They’re very involved.”
She continued, “She knows everyone. She knows how to make loops in our community. If she isn’t able to do something, she knows someone who is or someone who can get it done. She isn’t afraid to seek additional help. She has stepped in on her own as a champion for several of our students, and we want to recognize Katie Swofford for using her talents for Bright Futures.”
Kerusso was named Bright Futures Business of the Year. Hicks said the business has been the largest monetary supporter for the program, holds its own supply drives for the schools and has several employees serving on site councils.
“When fellow employees and leaders of the company saw the impact they were making in the community and the involvement people wanted to have, they came on board pretty quickly and pretty strongly,” Hicks said.
She said one of Bright Futures Berryville’s largest fundraisers is selling the Bright Futures shirts.
“We sell them for $10. They’re easy to obtain and not expensive,” Hicks said. “That’s because Kerusso gave them to us at such a good price. If the business contact I have can’t be available, there’s always someone else who steps up.”