BY SARAH ALLISON
Students from Franciscan University brought children from the Weirton, W.Va., community to buy school supplies on Sept. 24 at Wal-Mart as part of a back-to-school event. Social work major Chelsea Graham, who was assigned a field placement with Catholic Charities West Virginia this semester, organized the event.
“Catholic Charities had a back-to-school fund that they gave to me,” said Graham. “I had volunteered with the Boys & Girls Club, so I had connections there already. We worked together. They brought 16 kids to Wal-Mart, and I brought volunteers from Franciscan.”
Erin McDonald, northern regional director of Catholic Charities West Virginia, is Graham’s supervisor and was also present at the event, along with two representatives from the Boys & Girls Club. “Catholic Charities has been assisting with back-to-school supplies for years,” said McDonald. “The way we did it this year was unique. We actually took the kids from Boys & Girls Club to Wal-Mart, paired them up with volunteers, and allowed the kids to shop.”
For the event Graham recruited people from her class and her household, and some of them brought friends. The Franciscan students served as the “personal shoppers” for the children and went through the store in pairs, allowing each of the children to pick out school supplies, backpacks, shoes and other necessities. Each child was given $100 to spend. The purchases for all the children were listed on one receipt, which was as tall as some of the volunteers.
“The director of the Boys & Girls Club said this was one of the best things that ever happened for the kids,” said Graham.
In the past, a few volunteers from Catholic Charities simply picked out supplies and dropped them off at the Boys & Girls Club rather than having the children visit the store and choose their own supplies.
“That would have been quick and efficient,” said McDonald. However, she hopes that they continue to follow this new and more personal approach.
“I think the event went really well, and it was a meaningful way to connect with the community,” she said. She was grateful for Graham’s help and expressed a desire that Catholic Charities continue to work with Franciscan University in the future.
Due to scheduling and the time that Graham was assigned, Catholic Charities was only able to arrange the event after school began. Because of this, the children had already bought most of their supplies and returned to school. Thus their shopping lists included other necessary items, like shoes.
Graham is unsure when she might be given another event to plan.
“When Catholic Charities gets the funds, I might do another,” said Graham. “We might plan another around Christmas.”
Social work majors at Franciscan University are required to complete an internship. Professors place students at various local internships, and students’ activities differ based on their placement.