In the Know: What's in your backpack?

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As I looked over my counter, I could no longer see tile or carpet but rather a sea of supplies. My living room floor was decorated with bright colors and neatly coordinated piles of notebooks, folders, pencils, pens and more.

It's that time of year again! School has started and along with students everywhere, my children have filled their backpacks with the essentials. Over time those essentials have changed. In those early years of elementary school, items included crayons, markers, notebooks, folders, scissors and glue sticks. As my children entered middle school the list grew to include highlighters, composition notebooks and three-ring binders. My two boys are now in high school and necessary supplies include many of the previous items along with graphing calculators, earbuds and a Chromebook.

Regardless of the year, the process of packing backpacks involves checking a list and taking inventory to be sure they were purchased and personalized. This process is both exciting and comforting. There is pride in having new things that promotes confidence on that first day of school. There is also security in knowing that the backpack includes the tools needed to be successful.

United Way of Douglas and Pope Counties coordinates the Stuff the Bus program, which provides students with the tools that they need to be successful as they begin their school year. Stuff the Bus is a community wide effort to collect school supplies for students in grades K-12 supported by donations from many businesses and community partners. Through this program, over 500 students in Douglas and Pope counties received a backpack stuffed with supplies to begin their school year. These 500 children will enter school with both confidence and comfort that they are prepared for a new year.

In addition to school supplies to support their education, some students will also receive bags of food to support their health through the United Way Backpack Attack program. Each bag of food provides a student with breakfast items, entrees, canned fruit, snack items, juice and shelf stable milk to be taken home on a Friday to provide additional food over the weekend when a child is not in school. The supplemental food helps to provide families with financial stability by ensuring basic human needs are met along with reducing grocery expenses for families with a limited budget.

United Way fights for the health, education and financial stability of every person in Douglas and Pope Counties. Our backpack is filled with support from our community! With this support we are able to provide grants to local nonprofits that offer programs within our three priority areas:

• Health — improving people's emotional, mental and physical well-being. Outcomes: Improve access to affordable and quality physical, mental and dental health care. Increase independent living and quality of life by investing in programs that help older adults and those living with disabilities. Increase access to programs that teach healthy behaviors and promote wellness to prevent future problems.

• Education — helping children and youth reach their potential. Outcomes: Increase children and youth's access to enriched learning opportunities. Ensure that children are fully prepared for kindergarten or age appropriate development. Increase early grade literacy for students K-3.

• Financial stability — promoting financial stability leading toward independence. Outcomes: Increased access to programs that help increase assets, achieve stabilization, and/or provide job training to improve employability. Help individuals gain financial literacy skills. Ensure the basic human service needs are met.

Our backpack is filled with essential programs and partnerships. To learn more about these programs visit www.uwdp.org. Throughout our campaign year, we will continue to learn and grow to make the greatest impact in our local community.

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Jen Jabas is the director of the United Way of Douglas and Pope Counties. "In the Know" is a rotating column written by community leaders from the Douglas County area.