Junior Auxiliary Provisionals provide smiles, teaching tools for Vicksburg children

Published 1:53 pm Thursday, May 5, 2022

For their Provisional Class Project, the newest members of the Junior Auxiliary of Vicksburg decided to get cute, creative and educational with LOL Bags, also known as Love of Literacy Bags.

With several elementary school teachers in this year’s Provisional Class, the group knew right away that they could put together a unique and effective educational project. They recognized that when it comes to lifelong success, a strong foundation must be laid early, and in Mississippi, many kids are behind before they ever set foot in a kindergarten classroom. Thus, the idea for LOL Bags was born.

Members first approached Vicksburg’s two Head Start programs, which service and promote school readiness in children between the ages of 3 and 5 from low-income families. After meeting with Head Start leadership to understand their goals and needs, the class decided they would be a great target audience for the LOL Bags.

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“As a second-grade teacher and a mom, I know how vital those early years are — if you miss out on learning at the youngest ages, you often never catch up,” said Emily Richardson, a member of the Provisional Class. “When it comes to low-income children, that gap is even wider. This project specifically focused on that group, and I’m so proud that these 100 children will be better equipped because of the work we did.”

Additionally, the Provisionals reached out to United Way of West Central Mississippi, an organization that, likewise, has a mission area aligning childhood literacy and school success. When United Way Executive Director Michelle Connelly learned about the idea for the project, she was thrilled and offered to participate — happily donating books and art supplies from her organization for each bag.

With United Way’s help, combined with financial support from local businesses that included a law firm, agricultural sales and several others, the group was able to put together LOL Bags for distribution to 100 children ages 3 to 5 throughout the community. By the end of the project, the initial idea of providing stencils for practicing handwriting had grown to delivering backpacks filled with learning goodies for the little ones. Each bag included a magnetic dry erase board for practicing writing skills and spelling, magnetic letters to promote fine motor skill development and letter recognition, flashcards featuring both letters and numbers, crayons and paints, a coloring book, “Let’s Practice” workbooks, and finally, a custom-designed bookmark thanking project sponsors and outlining the goal of the project.

All 12 Provisionals, as well as active members and 1st Vice President Clare Huntley, played a hands-on role in the project. For four months, the group spent more than 200 hours meeting to work out a game plan, soliciting sponsors for funding, collaborating with local non-profits and daycares, collecting items, and packing the bags.

Tracie Herring, a member of the Provisional Class who works professionally as a criminal defense attorney, said that each day, she sees adult consequences of the children who weren’t given good educational opportunities.

“It’s heartbreaking to see children struggle at the elementary school level, as that usually results in them struggling into adolescent age and into adulthood,” Herring explained. “Those struggles often result in them dropping out of school and turning to illegal activities to fill the void. If we can do something earlier on to help these children, such as making sure they have the proper supplies and introduce them to literacy early on, maybe we can break this cycle.”

Plans are underway to determine how LOL Bags (or other literary-themed aid) can be incorporated into existing Junior Auxiliary of Vicksburg (JAV) projects.

JAV is a national non-profit organization with a goal of offering charitable services to local communities, particularly focusing on children.