Archive for July, 2012

Helping Students Succeed


One of Volunteers of America’s greatest strengths is our diversity. Our work touches a wide variety of needs, including homelessness, addiction, disability and incarceration. One group we have served throughout our history is those people considered to be the “working poor,” who often struggle to support their families while overcoming limited education and multiple generations of poverty.

These are people who often work two or three low-paying, part-time jobs that, even combined, don’t provide enough income to cover everything their families need. Many live in suburban or rural areas where they might not have easy access to support services. Getting to and from work can be a challenge, as they don’t have easy access to public transportation or must accommodate the added expense of maintaining a car. For those working poor people who live in cities, finding decent, affordable housing has increasingly become a struggle as real estate prices rise and the poor are pushed out of their lifelong neighborhoods by gentrification.

Whether it’s a matter as complicated as access to health care, or as simple as providing supplies to children on the first day of school, Volunteers of America is hard at work making sure our nation’s low-income families receive the help they need. One of those efforts, Operation Backpack, provides backpacks stuffed with school supplies to youngsters who might otherwise show up for class in the fall without the basics they need to be successful students. This is a wonderful program that’s coordinated by a dozen Volunteers of America affiliates nationwide. The largest of these efforts, in New York City, aims to assemble a record 14,000 backpacks this year, up from 8,000 last year. With family homelessness in the city on the rise, demand in the city has increased significantly.

There are many factors today that hinder the ability of working poor families to rise above their current circumstances, and those factors became even more challenging during the economic downturn. Only by taking a holistic approach that addresses all of these factors, big and small, can we make any real progress toward helping these families live more prosperous, successful lives. For more information about Volunteers of America’s Operation Backpack program, please visit http://www.voa.org/Support-Operation-Backpack.

– By Mike King, National President and CEO, Volunteers of America

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