Angels abound at Issaquah Valley Elementary School
June 2, 2009
By Chantelle Lusebrink
Who says angels only work their magic during the holiday season? At Issaquah Valley Elementary School, angels are earning their wings by providing new clothing, bedding and other personal items for students and families in need year-round.
Parent Suzie Kuflik started the Angel Program in November after seeing several students without proper winter attire.
“I would see children on a field trip, on a rainy day, with no jacket or raincoat or proper shoes, and they didn’t complain,” Kuflik said. “One boy had cropped jeans that were too short for him and were obviously a hand-me down from his sister.
“Other schools have programs like this during the holidays, but I wanted to do more,” she added. “This is our school, our kids and our community.”
To date, 30 children at the school have been helped by 30 different angels, parents and grandparents of other students or employees at the school.
Issaquah Valley, like many Issaquah schools, has families who struggle to make ends meet, said Principal Jennell Hawthorne. Especially now, since the economic downturn has led to many community layoffs.
“For a smaller school, we have a higher percentage of students that need assistance, but we’re not different than other schools,” Hawthorne said, adding that there are children in need at all schools.“We don’t think of families in Issaquah as needing help, but it exists everywhere,” she said.
Parent volunteers, like Kuflik, and school employees identify families who may need extra help when they register for school, when they come into the school office or nursing station, or when their children are missing too many days of school, Hawthorne said.
Families are also identified if they qualify for the free and reduced-price lunch program through the federal government. The program gives reduced-priced or free meals to students of parents who earn less than the area’s median income.
At Issaquah Valley, there are 100 students who qualify for the program, according to district statistics from the 2007-08 school year.
The entire program is anonymous; angels don’t know who their children or families are, and families likewise don’t know who their angels are, Kuflik said.
After children and families are identified, Kuflik sends the family a letter about the program, including rules for anonymity, a permission form for participation and a questionnaire regarding a child’s needs. That letter is translated into Spanish for families who don’t speak English well.
Once they’ve agreed to participate in the program, Kuflik said she matches a child with an angel and gives him or her a student’s sizing information, so the angel can shop for things the child would like. The angel only knows a student as a number.
“I love the privacy of Suzie’s program,” Hawthorne said. “It is very respectful of the families.”
When an angel purchases items for a child, he or she drops a bag off and school secretaries inform the student he or she has a bag to pick up.
The program has worked so well that Kuflik and other parents said they would like to see the program implemented districtwide as a supplement to other community programs, like the clothing bank.
“To see the joy on their faces,” Kuflik said when asked why she keeps working on the program. “Some do a happy dance and some come to give me hugs when I’ve dropped off larger items at family’s homes. You can tell some of these children have never had a new item in their life.”
One of those families wrote to Kuflik in a letter: “We are going through a very tough time right now and you are the direct answer to our prayers. God bless you! Thank you so very much for taking my son under your wing and providing these wonderful school clothes and shoes. When I got home and opened the gift bag, tears came to my eyes at the thought of your kindness and generosity. You truly are an angel!”
People to fill requests are always needed.
“Right now, we have about another dozen or so students who could be in the program, but I don’t have angels to match them to,” Kuflik said.
Of the 16,000 students in the district, there are about 1,184 students who qualified for the free and reduced-price lunch program, according to district statistics.
Though it is only one measure, it is an indicator of how many students the program could help.
Already, Clark Elementary School’s PTSA has adopted the Angel Program for next fall.
In coming months, Kuflik said she will submit a proposal to the Issaquah School Board in hopes the program will be adopted districtwide.
“I think it is one of the better donation programs, because the good comes from meeting specific children’s needs,” Hawthorne said. “It’s that secret pal phenomenon, knowing someone is out there thinking and caring about you.”
How to help
Call 391-7032 or e-mail email@example.com.
Reach Reporter Chantelle Lusebrink at 392-6434, ext. 241, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment on this article at www.issaquahpress.com.