For the 13th year, Geauga County Job and Family Services will be providing an opportunity for all of the county’s children to start school on the right foot.

“It’s all through the spirit of giving in Geauga County,” Craig Swenson, executive director of the county’s Job and Family Services, said of the agency’s “Help Me Learn” program.

He said the program is provided through the generosity of the community and that no tax dollars are used to support the program.

Mr. Swenson was accompanied Tuesday by Sara Shininger, the agency’s community support coordinator, and Chardon businesswoman Marianne Goodwin to present an overview of the program to Geauga County Commissioners.

Ms. Shininger said the program offers low-income families the opportunity to receive clothing, school supplies, medical checkups and haircuts at no charge to stay on even footing with all children heading back to school.

She said there are two distribution days held. On Aug. 7, the items will be distributed at the JFS offices, 12480 Ravenwood Drive in Munson Township. On Aug. 9, the items will be distributed at the Chagrin Falls Park Community Center, 7060 Woodland Ave. in Bainbridge Township.

Ms. Shininger said every school district in the county is made aware of the program.

She noted the program has benefitted from teaming with other organizations and churches in the area. She said Ms. Goodwin, a member of Chardon Rotary and Morningstar Church in Munson Township, assisted in getting the church’s cooperation in gathering the clothing for the children. She said the church’s sanctuary is turned into a “Marshall’s and T.J. Maxx.”

Marci’s Hair on the Square in Chardon is providing free haircuts to the children, and for the first time, this program will include a mobile dental truck. Another relatively new addition is free eye exams that will be provided at Morningstar Church by Family Eye Care of Chardon and Chester Eye Care.

Ms. Goodwin said previous eye care clinics have been held and prescriptions have been given, but parents have not always followed through on getting the eyeglasses for their children. She said now the clinics will provide the children with an opportunity to pick out their frames and have their glasses ready by a certain date. She said the Chardon Rotary is paying the cost of the glasses.

“This is a community effort of businesses, civic organizations, individuals and churches and not a penny of tax dollars is used,” Ms. Shininger said. She said as word of mouth spreads more join in the effort, noting that St. Helen’s Catholic Church in Newbury Township has recently begun providing financial assistance.

Since 2012, she said, 4,000 children have benefitted from the program and the value of items received has been $250,000.

Those wishing to donate can provide “gently used” clothing, Ms. Goodwin said. However, all underwear and socks must be brand new. She noted that one year a resident provided brand new winter coats and boots for the program.

Mr. Swenson said the program can expect to see between 500 and 600 students benefitting from this year’s program. He said there is tremendous satisfaction in seeing the “relief” on the families’ faces who come in a time of need and know the program will allow their children to get their school year started off right.

This year’s program got off to a good start, as Commissioners’ Clerk Christine Blair provided the group with bags of school supplies. Mrs. Blair said the donations were taken up in the commissioners’ office.

Ms. Shininger said this is only one of several programs that the agency provides. She said other programs provide furniture and food. Another program, the Summer Camp Enrichment Program, allows 400 to 500 children the opportunity to enjoy the activities provided there.

“The people in this county are extremely generous,” Ms. Shininger said.

Joseph Koziol Jr. started his career in journalism in 1981. He joined the Solon Times in 1992 and covered the city of Solon for 10 years. An award winning reporter, Mr. Koziol has been covering Geauga County since 2012.

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