By Justin Miles, Staff Writer
With poverty rates at a high in Rochester, educational deterioration is at the forefront. Pencils and Papers is a non-profit organization that works to serve the educational and creative needs of children in Rochester by providing free school supplies to teachers at high poverty schools.
The Jewish Family Service of Rochester began to facilitate this initiative when they received an anonymous $10,000 donation to create something sustainable to help provide basic school supplies to inner city students. That donation kick started the project that today stands as Pencils and Paper.
Pencils and Paper is overlooked by Kids in Need Foundation, an organization that receives donations to use for school supplies. Janet Sunkin, president and chief executive officer of Jewish Family Services of Rochester, and Howard Grossman, program coordinator of Pencils and Paper, received 100 boxes of year-long school supplies from Kids in Need Foundation to give out to the Rochester community.
With several schools in need of supplies, Kids in Need Foundation has strict guidelines. In order to receive assistance from the Foundation, Pencils and Paper must serve schools who have at least 70 percent of their students benefiting from free or reduced lunch. According to Grossman, 82 percent of all Rochester school students benefit from free or reduced lunch.
“Clearly there’s a need when teachers come in and say that they don’t have necessary, basic things like pencils, paper, markers, and crayons,” said Mandy Hartman, Jewish Family Service of Rochester volunteer coordinator.
According to the Jewish Family Service of Rochester’s website, 50 percent of children live in poverty and only 48 percent of Rochester City School District (RCDS) students graduate high school. In addition, dedicated teachers will approximately spend $500 to $1,200 of their own money on school supplies for their students each year.
Amanda Burke, who works in reading intervention for third and fourth graders at Adlai E. Stevenson School, said she spent “tons of money” on supplies as they only “get $75 per year for their classroom and that really goes nowhere.”
Fisher service scholars Joshua Miles and Liam Wicks are spearheading the initiative and are in the progress of making it into a club on campus where they hope to fundraise and host events that will benefit Pencils and Paper.
Many coordinating members of the organization had prior connections with Fisher. In an interview with Liz Rizzolo, Fisher’s civic engagement coordinator, Gerard Rooney, St. John Fisher College president, said he was passionate about bringing a civic engagement initiative to Fisher and especially wanted to be involved with Pencils and Paper.
“It is important for us to be involved in the community in all aspects, especially for great non-profit organizations such as this (Pencils and Paper),” said Rizzolo. “In order to promote education, we have to start with the youngest population and the population that needs our help the most.”
The free store, Pencils and Paper, is located at Water Tower Park, 1099 Jay Street, Building N. The location is open on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. – 6 p.m. and select Saturdays from 9 a.m. – noon in August to May.