When Community Needed Help, GTCC Early Childhood Education Club Stepped Forward In Big Way

Published on: May 19, 2021
GTCC Early Childhood Education Club Pandemic Project

While the COVID-19 pandemic continued to envelope the area last fall, students in Natasha Spellman’s early childhood education classes at Guilford Technical Community College wanted to find a way to help children and their families.

They had selected an education pathway to assist children in their future careers, and there wasn’t necessarily a need to wait for graduation to begin that mission.

“As early childhood education majors, the students wanted to do something to help children and families,” Spellman said of the members of the Early Childhood Education Club. “With the limitations due to COVID-19, it was decided that the club would research local organizations to see which ones aligned with the goals of the club.”

Club members were interested in helping with a food drive, a clothing drive, making snack bags for children or donating hygiene items. Turns out there is one group that does all of that.

“After we researched different organization in Guilford County, we found that Backpack Beginnings assists the community in all of those areas,” said Vanessa Gentry, one of the GTCC students involved with the project.

Spellman said last semester her students put together 50 snack bags for children. The bags included a shelf-stable microwaveable meal, cereal, pretzels, and fruit snacks.

This semester Spellman and her students discovered Backpack Beginnings had even greater needs; that family meals and hygiene items were in low supply.

Club members responded enthusiastically. They hit the aisles of a local Wal Mart, purchasing paired food items like pasta noodles and sauce, rice and beans, and peanut butter and jelly. Personal hygiene items they purchased included baby shampoo, soap, toothbrushes, and toothpaste.

For Edwina Kirby, the project brought back memories of growing up and lessons her mother taught her.

“It felt great to be able to give to families in need. Growing up my family would do the same,” said Kirby. “I would always make friends with new neighbors growing up. Some had younger children than me, but I would share my toys with them.

“We had a few neighbors who were young parents going through tough times and I remember my mom would cook. One time she made a large pot of spaghetti and we fed those children. They started coming to our house a lot. This made me think about how giving my family was when I was younger.”

Cayla Peterman grew up involved in the Girl Scouts. She was a scout for a dozen years and that experience prepared her for this project, an undertaking that now has her thinking about helping others in the future.

“Because of Girls Scouts I am used to helping those in need or volunteering with service-learning projects,” said Peterman, who is president of the Early Childhood Education Club. “While I was not exactly surprised at what the families needed, this was the first time I was in charge of a project, so I was surprised with the thought process of how many food items were needed and pairing them and the budgeting that went into it.

“Doing things like these projects has made me want to create a nonprofit in the future and dedicating it to helping families in need with food and proper resources. In schools a lot of times you will see students from all walks of life and if it is in my power to be able to help students in need, I will do so.”

Like Peterman, the project had a profound impact on Gentry.

“I love watching the community come together to serve the families in our education system. In my educational career, I want to connect families with their community as well as connect the community with the schools,” said Gentry. “This cycle will create a stronger sense of unity, which will provide more support to local schools.”

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