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Students picked out backpacks last year as part of Project Community Connect. (Crystal Dey/Echo Press)

United Way gives families back-to-school boost

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Back-to-school season is an exciting and sometimes terrifying time for kids.

They start school with new classmates, shop for the new "it" brand of clothes and shoes, and express themselves through what style backpacks, notebooks, pens and pencils they choose to use. But some kids don't have a choice. Some adults don't either.

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Parents see all the upbeat, positive back-to-school ads in circulars and on TV and wonder, "How am I going to pay for that? How am I going to make sure my kids have a fair start?"

Project Community Connect can help answer those questions.

On Thursday, August 22, the United Way of Douglas and Pope Counties Community Impact Coalition will be hosting Project Community Connect at the Runestone Community Center (RCC) from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m.

"It reduces barriers to accessing services, which is what the event is all about."

Tabitha Kremmin, United Way Community Impact/Building Connections Coordinator

Tabitha Kremmin, Community Impact/Building Connections coordinator with United Way, said the event has 20 exhibitors reserved so far and anticipates more than 40 by the time Project Community Connect opens its doors at the RCC.

In 2012, 686 backpacks were given out to local children for the 2013-2014 school year.

Known for distributing backpacks full of school supplies to kids in elementary, middle and high school, Project Community Connect has a lot of free services to offer beyond a back-to-school boost.

"The Community Impact Coalition strives to make this event better and better each year. We are very excited to be partnering with Fantastic Sams this year to offer help with haircuts in the form of gift certificates," Kremmin said. "We are actively looking for more salons who are able to partner to be able to increase the amount of people served."

A community lunch will be served between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. followed by a food drop at 2:30 p.m. This year the event will have interactive entertainment by DJ Sabrina from Sound Force.

Booths will be spread across the RCC floor offering help with homelessness, finding work, literacy problems, paying utility bills, chemical dependency, abusive relationships, debt, legal issues and Medicare.

Rural Minnesota Concentrated Employment Program will be on-site representing the Minnesota Workforce Center and will have information available on rehabilitation and veteran services. Kremmin said Legal Services of Northwest Minnesota will be available to offer confidential legal advice as well as assistance with legal forms.

"People have been exceptionally thankful for services that are offered on-site, such as legal assistance," Kremmin said. "It reduces barriers to accessing services, which is what the event is all about."

Volunteers are needed on August 21 and 22. If you would like to offer services, volunteer or pre-register for a backpack, call the United Way at (320) 834-7800. Registration is required by August 19 to receive a backpack and can be done via phone or online at http://www.uwdp.org. The Runestone Community Center is located at 302 3rd Avenue West in Alexandria.

DeyCrystal Dey Crystal Dey is a staff reporter for the Echo Press. Originally from Minnesota's Iron Range, Dey worked for newspapers in North Dakota, Florida and Connecticut before returning to her home state to join the Echo Press in October 2011. Dey studied Mass Communications at Minnesota State University Moorhead with an emphasis in Online Journalism. Follow Staff Reporter Crystal Dey on Twitter at @CrystalDey_Echo.

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Crystal Dey

Crystal Dey is a staff reporter for the Echo Press. Originally from Minnesota’s Iron Range, Dey worked for newspapers in North Dakota, Florida and Connecticut before returning to her home state to join the Echo Press in October 2011. Dey studied Mass Communications at Minnesota State University Moorhead with an emphasis in Online Journalism. Follow Staff Reporter Crystal Dey on Twitter @Crystal_Dey.

(320) 763-1233
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