BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - It is still difficult to wrap my head around the fact that school starts so early every year. I mean when I was in school we got out the Friday before Memorial Day and didn't go back until the Tuesday or Wednesday after Labor Day. Ah, the good ole days. Oh, wait... I'm dating myself.
But this is 2016 after all. A Coke isn't a nickel anymore and school starts the first of August. That's THIS WEEK! And the first thing that comes to mind for some parents: school supplies snuck up on me!
That being the fact, we thought we'd try to at least help defer the cost of some of those school supplies with this week's Hand It On. So we took our Hand It On money, $300, and broke it up into six $50 cash gifts. Then photographer Brandon Shackelford and I cranked up some great reggae music in his WAFB news unit and struck out to find unsuspecting shoppers!
Our very first attempt was met with slight trepidation. Mom, who absolutely did not want to be on TV, ran and hid between cars in the parking lot. (Frankly, I think she was just frightened of Brandon Shackelford!) But her two kids, Micki Watkins and Chavaun Young were happy to visit with us on camera about the start of school. Chavaun graduated last year, but Micki is a student at Rougon Elementary. We surprised Micki with our $50 gift. Where's mom now, huh?
Then we ran into Christy Mensah who taught for 14 years at Dufroc Elementary but had a calling to do more. So last year she left her teaching job and formed a non-profit organization called "I AM." It's a program teaching character development in children, helping them with identity issues, their belief system, etc. so they may grow up as successful, confident young men and women.
Christy was at the store to purchase supplies for implementing her "I AM" program for the first time in one of the charter schools in Baton Rouge. Of our $50 cash gift, Christy said "What a blessing. Thank you." No, thank YOU Christy for being such an incredible role model for youth in our community.
Mary Chustz was shopping for her shy granddaughter Makenzie Murry, a 4th grader at Chamberlin Elementary when she stopped to say hello to us with a buggy full of school supplies she had just purchased.
"We're going to let Hand It On pay for some of these items you just bought," I said. "Here's 50 bucks."
"Oh thank you Johnny! Thank you!" she replied. I even got a hug from Makenzie.
"She's gonna be on the honor roll," proud grandmother Mary exclaimed. I have no doubt.
Then what truly must be a "shopping mom" drove up. She was in a 'mom-taxi,' a mini-van. We caught up with her just as she was silencing her cell phone.
"It might be my husband telling me not to spend too much," Kelly Rayburn said embarrassingly. She had her precious blue-eyed daughter Stella with her. Stella goes to Our Lady of Mercy.
"When do y'all go back?" I asked Stella. "August 10," was Stella's reply, almost in a whisper.
"But tell him what August 9 is," mom Kelly spoke up with a smile. "My birthday," Stella said, still a little unsure of this guy with a microphone and Brandon with his camera.
"Well, I'm kinda torn," I said. "I'm with Hand It On and we were going to give you $50 to help with school supplies," I told Kelly. "But I think we're going to give it to you for your birthday."
My comment clearly directed at Stella who's eyes widened as she eagerly accepted the $50 bill. "Wow!", Stella said, her voice much more deliberate now. Thank you."
Mom Kelly summed it up best: "God is good all the time."
As soon as I turned around I saw the Brady Bunch! Well, not really, but walking toward us with two shopping carts were a mom, dad, and five children. Adrian Odom and his wife Rochelle and all the kiddos were about to stock up on school supplies. Rochelle was prepared for the adventure with her school supply list in hand. On her list were things like crayons, glue, blankets and the like.
"Oh my gosh," I exclaimed. "You're gonna need a little bit of money for all that."
"Yeah," was the obvious reply.
"I've got 50 bucks to help with that," I said as I handed the cash to an extremely appreciative Rochelle.
"Will that help?" I asked. "Yes! Thank you very much."
Dad Adrian walked around and said "Give me a hug man." What a blessed family and loving parents.
And finally, a father-son tag team walked out of the store and immediately recognized us from 9News This Morning. "I watch you on the news every morning!" Timothy Haynes and 7th grader Timothy Haynes, Jr. from Park Forest Middle had just finished shopping at one store and were on their way to another.
"School supplies are expensive," I said. "Yes they are," was the older Timothy's response.
"Well, I got $50 from WAFB to help off set the cost," I said as I gave Mr. Haynes the cash. "Hey man, I sure appreciate it man!" an extremely elated dad responded.
We realize this is not even a d rop in the bucket of what families spend each year to educate their young; not even close. However, every little bit helps. And even if in this very small way, WAFB's Hand It On program was privileged to supplement school supply costs for a few wonderful people in our area.
God Bless the parents, extended family members, friends and most importantly our educators as we begin yet another school year this week.
To nominate someone for Hand It On, send an e-mail to HandItOn@wafb.com. Make sure to include your contact information, especially your phone number.