Weatherford Democrat

Aledo ExtrA

April 15, 2013

Making a difference: Aledo Children's AdvoCats

By JUDY SHERIDAN

According to Aledo ISD counselors, there’s a link between how a child feels about him or herself and his or her academic performance.

That’s one reason, they say, the Aledo Children’s AdvoCats — an all-volunteer non-profit that helps meet the needs of financially-challenged children — plays a key role in education.

“Clothes have to do with social standing in the school, and they make a pretty big impact on how [students] feel,” Aledo High School counselor Scott Kessel said. “They have a bearing on academic performance.”

Coder Elementary counselor Jennifer Kirkpatrick agrees, pointing out the AdvoCats’ Clothes Closet on Bankhead Highway — where families shop with school-furnished vouchers — has a good selection of updated clothing, some brand new.

“Even at elementary school, kids like to look really good,” she said. “If they feel good about themselves, they’re proud, and it comes out in their work and attitudes.”

The AdvoCats, who donated more than $35,000 last year to more than 350 local children, are a go-to resource in the Aledo Independent School District, not only for clothes and school supplies, but for field trips, senior rings, prom dresses, sports activities, summer camps — even medical and utility bills, counselors say.

The group also donated more than $17,000 last year for children’s Christmas gifts.

“They go above and beyond,” Vandagriff Elementary counselor Debbie Thornton said. “We just had fifth graders go to a 3-day YMCA science camp, and there were half a dozen who couldn’t afford the $130 fee. No questions asked, they paid. They’ve paid for eyeglasses, dental work, even emergency room visits and medicine.”

The programs and services offered, Kessel said, are conducted through the counselors on each campus.

“As we see needs, we relay that information,” he said.

Kirkpatrick said parents of Coder students tell her when they’re going through a rough time and update her when situations improve.

Families must fill out a request form for assistance, she said.

Requests for help with utility or medical bills — more expensive needs — require longer forms with more detailed financial information.

The AdvoCats go to the campuses to pick up the forms.

“It’s a great service,” she said. “[Students] can get three pairs of pants or shorts, three shirts, three pairs of socks and three pairs of underwear every six weeks, and a pair of shoes every semester.”

Having a Coder T-shirt is a big deal, she noted.

“On Spirit Day, they want to be part of the Bearcat family.”

Students who qualify for the AdvoCats’ services are the same as those who qualify for federal free or reduced-cost lunch programs, Kessel said, that’s how they’re identified. At Aledo High School, 112 students are eligible.

“At Coder this year 40 to 50 kids benefited from the school supplies,” Kirkpatrick said. “That number includes students who qualified for Pre-K, which is based on income level, military status or participation in English as a Second Language.”

Sometimes parents are too proud to ask, Thornton said. The AdvoCats collaborate with local churches to provide weekend snack packs for elementary students, she said, and about 60 students from Vandagriff participate.

For ethical and legal reasons, the group is careful to maintain anonymity and confidentiality about the things they provide, Kessel said. They don’t want to know names or faces.

"The district must comply with Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act laws in not disclosing identities,” he said, “and ethically, [the AdvoCats] want to insure that the family knows no one is finding out; no one is talking about this kid.”

Students are appreciative, Kessel said.

“There was a student coming to school recently in clothes that didn’t fit and were not the current style,” he said. “She had the opportunity to get clothes that fit her better, and she gave me a great big hug, although I didn’t have much to do with it.

“Last week there was a senior girl who got her class ring. All along, she didn’t think she was going to get one, but we walked through the process, and then it was done and paid for. She was wearing it with such pride.”

“They are so wonderful,” Thornton said. “Anything we ask for, they do. They show up. They help kids meet various needs.”

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