Nonprofit tries to ease pain for low-income students

A student paints using a feather during a science camp.

An Oakland-based nonprofit is looking to provide backpacks full of school supplies and dental kits to children in San Benito County.
What started as a college project for a group of University of California, Berkeley students has flourished into a full-fledged nonprofit that provides backpacks and dental supplies to low-income students, with a primary mission of serving homeless students.
Lisa Faulkner, the executive director of First 5 San Benito, said her group sponsored a presentation by “KtoCollege” after one of the local First 5 commissioners met Benito Delgado-Olson, one of the agency’s founders. Faulkner said she invited representatives from the San Benito County Office of Education, the Hollister School District and other agencies that deal with students who fall into the McKinney-Vento category – a federal mandate that protects the educational rights of homeless children and youths.
“It started as an entirely volunteer-based group my senior year at UC Berkeley,” said Delgado-Olson, the executive director and founder of KtoCollege. “It was cofounded with a number of my colleagues about 2009. We put together a pilot program along with a business plan.”
Delgado-Olson and the other cofounders discovered that by connecting with multiple places and school districts, they could leverage a better value on the school supplies and dental kits they were purchasing in bulk. They started out serving 300 kids at a south Berkeley YMCA. Once they attracted some investors and corporate partners, they expanded their reach to Alameda, Contra Costa and San Francisco counties. This year, they will be serving the nine county region of the Bay Area.
Delgado-Olson has focused about 50 percent of his time on the job in recent years toward expanding the program to other school districts. Last year, it served 333 students in the Gilroy Unified School District and 66 students in the Morgan Hill Unified School District.
Kim Dryden, the director of categorical programs for the San Benito County Office of Education, said her office reported 653 students identified as McKinney-Vento students for some portion of the 2011-12 school year. She said it can include students who are living in shelters or in the car as well as those whose families might be living with friends or other family members.
“This was new to me and it can be very beneficial to our students,” Dryden said. “We are already working on receiving a shipment from them that they were gracious enough to offer to us.”
She said she is hoping to set up future meetings where the district McKinney-Vento liaisons can meet with KtoCollege representatives to learn more about the program.
“I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to work with them,” Dryden said. “I’m really looking forward to it.”
Delgado-Olson said he has meet with HSD Superintendent Gary McIntire. They identified a few schools to target next fall. He said they have already sent 500 dental kits that include a toothbrush, toothpaste and floss that will be distributed this year.
The connection with the school districts is especially important to the distribution of the supplies because each district has a staff member who has already identified McKinney-Vento students, but it is confidential information that they can’t share with an outside agency.
“In times of cuts, a lot of liaisons only have resources to identify and nothing to give them,” Delgado-Olson said. “But now they can also provide a tangible resource – the school supply kit and dental kit. The feedback we’ve gotten is that it really adds to their relationship and makes them seem like more of a friend.”
KtoCollege started out with a focus on the school supply kits, but in 2010 they added in the dental kits after they saw a study that poor oral health is the second-leading cause of school absences.
“If you’ve ever had a bad toothache or cavity, you can relate to how hard it is to concentrate on anything,” he said. “Imagine an 8-year-old with multiple teeth that feel that way.”
He said part of the solution is making sure the kids have a fluoride toothpaste to use every day and other items to prevent cavities.
Although they have some corporate sponsors and investors, the nonprofit is largely driven by community donations. They do outreach in the communities they serve in hopes of increasing the money they have to purchase supplies. For $22, donors can purchase three times that value in supplies to benefit one student.
For more on KtoCollege, visit http://ktocollege.org/.

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