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"Backpacks for Success" has another successful year

Published On: Aug 18 2013 03:39:39 AM CDT

Thousands of Madison-area students received some much-needed school supplies over the weekend courtesy of the 100 Black Men of Madison’s annual "Backpacks for Success" picnic.

The organization distributed backpacks full of supplies to approximately 2,500 students from kindergarten through high school.

Organizers said they're seeing an increase in the number of families needing help, while some families said that the picnic couldn’t have come at a better time.

"I'm switching jobs right now and financial stuff is hard," said Madison resident April Laakkonen.

"We would have been able to get some of this, but this definitely helps me put the money toward other things like the back to school clothes and stuff like that," echoed Madison resident Kionna Moore.

Organizers said the new backpacks are designed to motivate students.

"A kid is going to perform better if he looks good and feels good,” said J.R. Sims with 100 Black Men of Madison. “And he's going to feel good if he has a new backpack and the supplies he needs to get off on a footing with his peers."

"In order for them to be successful in school, they need the necessary supplies,” agreed Moore. “This helps them with that and helps me also."

Hearts are heavy for many organizers this year as they continue to mourn the loss of Al and Jan Studesville.

The couple was killed earlier this year in a motorcycle accident in Texas.

Sims said Al Studesville typically manned the grill at the annual backpack giveaway.

"It is in their memory we've been completing some of our tasks and goals this year," said Sims. "We keep them in our hearts and we know they're watching out for us."

Mother of four April Laakkonen said the school supplies and backpacks she's receiving will help her save around $100 this year.

"I could always use the extra help," said Laakkonen. "I'm glad the service is here."

2013 marks the 17th year that 100 Black Men of Madison has given away backpacks. Organizers estimate that in that time, they’ve given away more than 24,000 bags of supplies.

Also at Saturday’s event was the United Way of Dane County. The organization is reaching out to parents to closely monitor their childrens' attendance.

The United Way is working with the Madison Metropolitan School District to improve student attendance records.

"We are asking parents what they feel are the root causes or the root issues or barriers around why our students of color are not getting to school," said Angela Jones of the United Way of Dane County.

The United Way and the school district will soon announce strategies to get kids to school every day.

In the meantime, they are encouraging parents to offer up a special reward to their kids if they have perfect attendance through September and October.

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