Assistance League Visalia Fills Kids' Needs
A Helping Hand
By Kendra Kaiserman
We all need a little help sometimes. Assistance League Visalia is a nonprofit doing just that. The organization helps others all over the South Valley with a mission to enrich the lives of children through volunteerism, education and service.
“Assistance League Visalia started as a guild of the national organization in July 1996 with more than 100 members,” says Sandy Forbes of Assistance League Visalia. “We became a chartered chapter of Assistance League in October 1998 and will celebrate our 20th anniversary in 2018. We were the 102nd chapter of the national organization.”
The National Assistance League was founded in the early 1900s to provide clothing for people impacted by World War I. They are known as a “national nonprofit organization that puts caring and commitment into action through community-based philanthropic programs,” Forbes says.
Over the years, “the greatest change has been realized in the funding raised each year,” says Forbes. “Our modest beginnings have grown to a budget of $100,000 a year. Each year we have increased the number of students we serve by our five programs and also increased the amount each child is able to spend.”
Assistance League Visalia’s many programs for children include The Kids on the Block, Le Bag, Fifty Sense, Rainbow Reading and a backpack program.
“The Kids on the Block is an educational program using large hand puppets to teach students about social issues,” Forbes says. Topics include anti-bullying, anti-drugs, tolerance and respect for people with disabilities. Students are encouraged to interact with the puppets during the program, including asking them questions. “We have received many heartfelt thank-you letters from grateful students and teachers,” says Forbes. Last school year, Kids on the Block reached 2,511 kids at 22 schools.
Le Bag provides hygiene kits to students who are clothed through Operation School Bell, Assistance League’s signature program.
More than 650 kits were distributed last school year, which included a toothbrush, toothpaste, shower gel and various hair care products.
Under Operation School Bell, “each chapter assesses the needs of children in their community and designs a specific program. Our goal is to help children succeed in school by providing new school clothing,” says Forbes. “We work closely with the schools to identify students in need, receiving referrals from school nurses, counselors and primarily from the SAFE (Student Advocate Family Engagement) techs.”
Once a family has been referred, a volunteer meets them at a store, where each student is allowed to spend $100 on new clothes or shoes.
Fifty Sense is a program where members paint (and often repaint or refresh) large-scale United States maps on elementary and middle school campuses. “This program benefits the entire school community and reaches our largest audience,” Forbes says. Last school year, Fifty Sense reached 2,500 kids and painted maps at six schools.
Rainbow Reading consists of providing books to each student at one elementary school, which they can take home. “Each year a different elementary school is chosen to receive books in order to develop the value of home libraries across the school district,” Forbes says.
Last year, they added a backpack program, providing more than 1,000 backpacks to students in Lindsay, Dinuba, Exeter, Farmersville, Tulare, Visalia and to the Tulare County Office of Education.
Together, Assistance League Visalia’s programs served 6,231 students last school year.
Over the nine years that Forbes has worked with Assistance League Visalia, she says “seeing the smiles on the faces of children who get to select new clothing is one of the most rewarding parts of volunteering.”
Others can get involved with Assistance League Visalia by volunteering, becoming a member or making a donation. “With the help of more volunteers and donations, we will be able to increase the number of students who benefit from our program,” Forbes says.•
Assistance League Visalia • (559) 737-1907