Where We’ve Been, Where We’re Going!
2017: The Greater Augusta Back to School Program was born in the late Spring of 2017 when current Director of the GABTSP Mike “SHU” Michaud was Exalted ruler at the Augusta Elks. His wife and founder of the program Lina found an ENF (Elks National Foundation) grant for $1500 in commemoration of 150 years as a fraternal organization and thought it would be a good idea to purchase some backpacks for area students in need. Lina & SHU went out and purchased as much as they could with the money they had raised as well as in-kind donations from Elks and community members. They were able to buy and fill 150 backpacks. The event which was originally called “The Augusta Elks Backpack Program” was held on the 3rd Saturday of August, the doors opened at 10am and by 10:45 that morning there was not even a pencil to be given away. Unfortunately they had to turn away more people than actually received backpacks. This was intended to be a “one and done” event but both Lina & SHU realized to need for this event to carry on. Planning started that day for the next year!
2018: Year 2 efforts were doubled, fundraising became our #1 priority and the program was able to raise double the money, as well as working with the Marketplace in Augusta and several area businesses by putting big boxes at some locations for donations. The efforts paid off by having over 300 backpacks and school supplies to give away that year. The doors opened and within 2 hours we had run out again. Time to raise more money!
2019: Year 3 the Augusta Elks Backpack Program was able to raise even more money and receive many donations of backpacks and supplies from the community. That year, the organization invited other local groups to participate. Local Boy & Girl scouts Troops, a Martial Arts studio, Bikers against bullying, and many more area businesses and organizations to participate in the event. The goal was to provide area youth with extra-curricular activities to participate in. That year the Elks was pushed to the limit with space, and the organization’s ability to provide all the essential materials needed to grow and continue to be successful.
2020: After the event ended in 2019 a group of the volunteers sat down and decided it was time to grow and maximize what this event could do. “The Greater Augusta Back to School Program” was born. A 501c-3 was set up and this became a community wide event. Speaking with administrators at Cony High School it was decided to move the event to that location in the next year. The group also put together a Board of Directors that consisted of about 13 people. They put their heads together and planned the event for 2020. On March 15, 2020, letters went out to area businesses for donations – on March 18, 2020, the State of Maine was closed down Due to Covid-19. All of a sudden, everything we had worked and planned for came crashing down. There was no school, then remote learning, no in person contact, and we were on the verge of canceling the event when one of our members suggested a drive thru event. We were back in business! We moved the event to the Augusta Civic Center. Our fundraising efforts filled 750 backpacks and the Civic Center parking lot was used for distribution and it was a huge success.
2021: With the success of 2020 and still the effects of Covid-19 still very much part of our lives it was decided to continue our event at the Civic Center in the same manner. This year we were able to raise almost 30,000.00 and filled 1000 backpacks and distributed most of them by the time school had started. Upon completion of our event and at a post event meeting it was proposed that the program grow some arms.
Arm #1 included purchasing and distributing new winter coats, hats and mittens for area students. In partnering with Operation Warm, we were able to purchase 100 winter coats and distribute to area schools.
Arm #2 was a literacy program. We purchased books in different subjects and are inviting area professionals to come in and read the books and give presentations. At this time, this is targeted toward students in grades K-6.
2022: This year, we are still hosting at the Augusta Civic Center, but this time, hoping that COVID-19 is well behind us, we are moving the event inside the civic center. We will still be coming to the Civic Center this time we will be moving indoors. We are working on a comprehensive event that will include barbers, representation from extracurricular programs and healthy snacks provided by our great partner, Hannaford.
Upward and Onward! The future looks bright for the Greater Augusta Back to School Program, and more importantly, the beneficiaries of the program, our local youth. Our adopted motto “It Takes a Village to Raise a Child” could never be more true, and we are so grateful to our partners, sponsors and neighbors that donate the money, goods, and time to give every child in the Greater Augusta area a fighting chance to succeed!