He came bounding up the steps of the elementary school, dragging a plastic leaf bag full of treasures. He sported a broad smile and glittering eyes. He stopped as he reached the landing and said enthusiastically, “Look at my shoes! Look at my new shoes!”
This young man represents countless other children served by the Fort Smith Children’s Service League (CSL). Organized in 1933, CSL serves children of all ages throughout Fort Smith by providing clothing and toiletry kits. When a child is identified as in need of assistance, a permission slip is sent home. When the slip is returned, an assigned representative of the Children’s Service League collects the child at school and takes him or her to the clothes locker. There the child is fitted with three pairs of jeans, five long-sleeved and five short-sleeved shirts, a heavy coat, a jacket, five pairs of underwear and socks, and a pair of shoes. If available, the child might also receive dress clothes, shorts, sweaters, or sweatshirts. The clothes are a mix of new and gently used shirts and jeans. The all-volunteer group always purchases shoes, underwear and socks for the children served. The League estimates that clothes and toiletries for one child cost $125, an expense they note is very reasonable for the complete package.
With approximately 30 active volunteers, the sole purpose of the Children’s Service League—to clothe needy school children—has not changed in 82 years. Their mission and service has increasing relevance as the number of needy children in Fort Smith continues to grow. Fort Smith Public School District (FSPS) educators believe that the basic needs of a child must be met before he or she can become a successful learner. FSPS educators believe that CSL volunteers make a real and measurable difference in meeting these basic needs. Anecdotes of children who have received CSL services establish a pattern of improved self-confidence and behavior—known factors in improved student achievement.
The partnership between the FSPS and CSL is primarily logistical. FSPS provides to the CSL space for the clothing locker. In this way the administration can provide a modest contribution to the success of the CSL and its purpose. Principals and teachers are well-aware of the needs of their students, and they are well-versed in initiating the service of the CSL. Educators make these referrals to League volunteers. In addition to chaperoning and assisting the children on their visit to the clothing locker, CSL volunteers collect, sort, launder and buy necessary items. The League has volunteers assigned as “buyers” and as “fund-raisers.” Every penny donated to the CSL is spent in purchasing clothing or shoes for children.
The community as a whole is a remarkable part of this process. Corporate donors, organizations and individuals contribute money and/or necessary items. Churches contribute money. Faith communities and businesses organize clothing drives. Dentists give toothbrushes and toothpaste. Ultimately these gifts of resource benefit the children who receive CSL service. This number is completely dependent on the number of children who are identified as having great need.
The partnership between the Children’s Service League, the community, and the Fort Smith Public School District is mature and ongoing. The team is well-organized to serve the needs of children, thus providing a supported opportunity for children to become successful learners and productive citizens.
The increasing needs of Fort Smith students, the dedication of these community volunteers, and the generosity of a caring community make the Children’s Service League a dynamic provider of benefits now and for the future.