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Cradlerock Elementary School students get free backpacks for new school year

Javen Perry, 11 (left), Kelis Perry, 9, (middle) and Jeremy Perry, 13 (right) pose wearing their new backpacks from the United Way event at Cradlerock Elementary School on Wednesday Aug. 22.
Javen Perry, 11 (left), Kelis Perry, 9, (middle) and Jeremy Perry, 13 (right) pose wearing their new backpacks from the United Way event at Cradlerock Elementary School on Wednesday Aug. 22. (Jess Nocera / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Javen Perry, an incoming fifth-grader at Cradlerock Elementary School, picked out a free new Under Armour backpack filled with school supplies, including a marble notebook, colorful folders and crayons at the Columbia-based school on Wednesday.

“I’ve missed going to school,” said Javen, 11, of Columbia, whose favorite subject is science.

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Javen first chose a white Under Armour backpack but then switched to a dark blue one. He was excited to receive the backpack because, he said, Under Armour is his “favorite name brand.”

The Cradlerock school backpack giveaway was organized by United Way of Central Maryland, one of several schools located within the organization’s jurisdiction in Howard County, Anne Arundel County, Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Carroll County and Harford County that participated.

On Wednesday, 1,200 backpacks were distributed. Under Armour donated 2,000 backpacks for the event and an additional 500 were donated from various school supply drives. United Way had earlier distributed 1,300 backpacks.

Kari Staddon, director of development for United Way of Central Maryland, said Javen and his sister Kelis, 9, were among 120 students from pre-K to fifth grade of Cradlerock Elementary who received a United Way backpack to gear up for the new Howard County Public Schools year, which starts Sept. 4.

Staddon said there was also on Wednesday a Pupil Personnel Worker from Howard County Schools — who, among other duties acts as student/family advocates with the school system and community agencies — giving out backpacks with supplies donated by Christ Episcopal Church, located in Columbia, to middle-schoolers like Jeremy Perry, 13, Javen’s older brother, who attends Lake Elkhorn Middle School, which Cradlerock feeds into.

Christ Episcopal Church in 2002 launched Prepare for Success, a school supply drive, according to the program’s website. In 2009, the program transitioned under the Howard County Community Action Council, which undertook the program’s fiscal responsibilities. The following year, Prepare for Success, the community action council and county schools signed a partnership agreement. Supplies are distributed by Pupil Personnel Workers.

Volunteers pack United Way sponsored backpacks at Cradlerock Elementary School in Columbia on Wednesday morning. Each backpack was filled with a variety of school supplies, including markers colored pencils and scissors.
Volunteers pack United Way sponsored backpacks at Cradlerock Elementary School in Columbia on Wednesday morning. Each backpack was filled with a variety of school supplies, including markers colored pencils and scissors. (Jess Nocera/Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Staddon said that the purpose of the event “is to prepare children for a successful school year.”

“Some people don’t recognize the need in Howard County,” Staddon said. “Families are struggling, [they] may be on the verge of eviction, [or] they might be struggling to make ends meet.”

According to the 2017-2018 Cradlerock Elementary School profile, approximately 50 percent of its students participated in the free and reduced-priced meals program known as FARMs during the 2016-2017 school year.

Staddon said that all Cradlerock Elementary School families that are part of the United Way’s of Central Maryland’s Family Stability Program, which helps support families so, among other benefits, their children can remain in their original schools. were able to receive the backpacks.

Prior to the backpack distribution, about 20 Cradlerock Elementary volunteers filled Under Armour and other brand backpacks with supplies including a pencil case, scissors, No. 2 pencils, pens, crayons, glue sticks, a marble notebook, subject notebook, notebook paper and more.

“We like for [our volunteers] to be able to see the impact they are making in the community — to see the smiles on the faces of the children,” Staddon said.

Some volunteers wrote inspirational messages to add to backpacks.

Staddon said that “perhaps the messages will inspire and make [the students] feel good and give them the encouragement they might need for the school year.”

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Jennifer Zinn, principal of Cradlerock Elementary School, said on behalf of the school they are grateful for the backpacks from United Way and their donors.

“It means a lot to start the first day off successful, it’s really important,” Zinn said. “We all come together in the community to support our children.”

Shirley Hewitt, of Dundalk, made inspirational signs at the United Way backpack event at Cradlerock Elementary School on Wednesday, Aug. 22.
Shirley Hewitt, of Dundalk, made inspirational signs at the United Way backpack event at Cradlerock Elementary School on Wednesday, Aug. 22. (Jess Nocera/ Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Milton Matthews, CEO and president of the Columbia Association, volunteered at Wednesday’s event.

“I’m not a parent [but] I have nieces and nephews, [and] I know that you don’t want to kids to start off without the tools they need,” Matthews said.

Javen’s sister Kelis, 9, who is entering third grade at Cradlerock and whose favorite color is pink, picked out a pink and white patterned backpack. Her favorite subject like her older brother is science.

“I like science because you get to make stuff in dirt,” Kelis said, referencing how in the second grade she got to plant flowers in her science class.

Jeremy is headed this year into the seventh grade at Lake Elkhorn Middle and chose a white Under Armour backpack and said his favorite subject is math.

“I like math because it is needed in everything that we do,” Jeremy said.

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