Karen Sweeney, a counselor at Robertsdale High School, has organized a meeting for all low-income families on April 24 to provide them with information on educational benefits, health care options, job opportunities and other resources available to …
Karen Sweeney, a counselor at Robertsdale High School, has organized a meeting for all low-income families on April 24 to provide them with information on educational benefits, health care options, job opportunities and other resources available to low-income families. It will be held in the school gym and starts at 6:30 p.m. Parents of all school-age children in the are invited.
Although Sweeney has organized the event, which she is calling a “bootstrap summit,” it is a cooperative effort between all the schools with students that will eventually attend Robertsdale High School.
The six volunteers working to make the evening a success are Sweeney, Liz Busby, school nurse Central Baldwin area; Emily Ryan Smith, social worker for the Baldwin County Board of Education; Lantana McKenley, Baldwin County Mental Health Department; Sonya Hayes, Alabama Career Center in Foley; and Julie Hershey, English teacher at RHS.
Door prizes will be given to those who are present for the summit.
“We will have gas cards, grocery gift certificates and we are hoping to get some good used cars for the big prizes,” she said. The volunteers are still canvassing local businesses and individuals for the prizes. and Sweeney said she hopes the community will respond generously, as they usually do. “This is a very caring community,” she said.
Sweeney said since there is no central clearinghouse in the county where the families can get information on services and education opportunities, she is hoping the bootstrap summit will help.
Many families don’t realize that if they sign up for the free lunch, they can get help with school supplies and uniforms for their children, she said, noting that the summit is designed to see that low-income families get as much information as possible.
“Low income families often don’t realize there is a free college education just waiting for their children. It’s not just for college, and junior college, but any kind of technical training,” she said.
By the time a child reaches high school, Sweeney said, they have often become trapped in a feeling of hopelessness about their future and their grades have slipped. “If the families know these children can go to college, they can begin to help their children in the early grades, so by the time the get to high school, they know they can go on and get more education,” she explained, noting that 25 percent of local children do not graduate from high school.
“Most low-income parents think they cannot afford a post-secondary education for their children and nothing could be further from the truth. Assuming they meet college eligibility requirements, all students at this summit qualify for Pell grants, which pay for four years of tuition at public colleges or technical schools.
“The Pell grant has been available for 40 years but so many people still don’t know about it. That’s a possible lifetime earning of $1 million. This is my attempt to tell this little part of the world that these opportunities are out there,” she said.
Sweeney has met with and compiled a list of social services organizations that offer help and information on education, employment, financial aid, both government and private sector, health care, housing, language, parenting, transportation, abuse and recreation.
Although Baldwin County is an affluent area, there are pockets of poverty. In fact, there are over 1800 students in grades K-12 in Central Baldwin County alone that qualify for these services, she said.
The prizes of food, gas and transportation may seem mundane to some, but they represent the very real needs of the families of those 1800 students. “These door prizes may not seem as exciting as vacations or cash, but those who win the prizes will be low-income families with school-aged children and the prizes will help provide basic necessities for them,” she said.
The summit will start at 6:30 and will be held in the gym. Representatives of the service groups will address the group for just a few minutes and then they will be at tables where parents can meet individually with them and ask questions they might have and get information and literature.
The title bootstrap summit, was chosen as a reflection of the area’s rural heritage and is taken from the phrase of “pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps,” she said.