Do you coordinate holiday assistance for families at your school? Here are some quick partnership ideas for the holidays! These are all partnerships I’ve done in the past with my local communities.
Toy Lift: When I worked at a middle school, we had a local “Toy Lift” to collect toys and gifts for families in need. With permission from families, we gathered lists with sizes and interests and went to a giant warehouse to shop for presents! The organization delivered the gifts to our school, and we distributed them to families in time for them to wrap for Christmas.
Marine Corps Toys for Tots: Consider organizing a toy drive at your school with your SCA officers to collect toys for Toys for Tots. I also coordinated with Toys for Tots to provide gifts for students in need at my school.
Salvation Army Angel Tree: We partner with our local Salvation Army to invite families to participate in their annual Angel Tree program. Because we send home food bags with many of our families, we sent the flyer home in a food bag for several weeks in a row. Later, I collaborated with them to check our lists to ensure we were not duplicating families when we offered our “Giving Tree” to families at our school.
United Way: Our local United Way is always a great resource for school supplies through their “Stuff the Bus” program. I have also coordinated with them for purchasing gifts for families.
Partnering with local law enforcement and fire/rescue stations: We have partnered with local agencies to provide warm coats (“Operation Warm”) and bikes for our families in need over the holidays. We even got our firefighters to deliver the coats to the school on ladder trucks, which was very exciting!
Giving Tree: We offer our own Giving Tree to students at our school. I send a survey to all faculty and staff members asking about who might want to sponsor a child over the holidays, and gauge how many students we can sponsor. Consider whether you will shop for all siblings, or just the ones who attend your school. We double-check with other local groups to make sure we are not duplicating resources, and invite families to participate by filling out an information page and a wishlist with sizes and interests. Check out my full 57-page resource here!
Thanksgiving dinners/meals: I offer information about local organizations who serve community Thanksgiving dinners or who offer tickets to pick up a free turkey and food box and distribute that information to families who may benefit.
Consider resources and partnerships you can create within your own school division with your school’s PTO/PTA, school social workers, community groups, etc.
Another tip: Keep track of your partnerships from year to year and the students/families you are able to help. These lists will help you when you start to screen your lists next year. For example, if you invite a family and they opt not to participate, denote it and keep it in mind the following year. Thank you for all you do to support your students and families during the holidays and throughout the year! You are making a difference.
School counselors have so many responsibilities on our plates, and one thing I know for certain is that we cannot do this work alone. I’m grateful my graduate school program emphasized the importance of school-family-community partnerships, because they have truly become the backbone of my program. I’ve compiled a list of a dozen types of partnerships I’ve created over the last 12 years, some within my school community, and others in our larger communities and beyond. Each quarter, I include a list of the partnerships I’ve created recently in my school counselor newsletter (template here!).
PTO/PTA: Reach out to your school’s parent-teacher organizations for additional support and even potential funding for your programs. Ask the PTO president or faculty representative when they will have their annual budget meeting, and submit a small grant or proposal (or ask for a few minutes of their time). In the past, I successfully wrote a grant for my own SmartBoard! This year, I wrote a small proposal for hygiene items for 5th grade girls. The PTO is also a wonderful place to recruit parent volunteers – I had several volunteers who managed my clothes closet and school supply closet, keeping things organized and with an inventory with what we did/didn’t need, which was helpful when organizations called about donations. (Just make sure you follow your school’s procedures for proper sign-in and background checks).
Local chapters of professional counselor organizations: Seek out local chapters of your district, regional, or statewide professional counseling organizations. Many provide networking events, socials, and professional development opportunities throughout the year, which will keep you sharp and put you in contact with other professionals and resources in your specific area.
Foster care organizations: Reach out to your local foster care support groups for ways you can collaborate and support them, which in turn, will support the students and families at your school and in your community. We collected backpacks for our local foster care organization to make “Journey bags” for children during new placements, to replace the trash bags they were previously given to collect their personal belongings.
Career Day: Planning a Career Day at your school is a great time to make connections with your students’ families and local organizations. Our Career Day committee reaches out early in the year and gives a “Save the Date” gift to presenters each year to ensure they have next year’s Career Day on their calendar.
Resource fair: Collaborate with local agencies and host a resource fair for school counselors in your district on a workday. Invite representatives from organizations who can bring literature and information about their community programs. This event is great to learn more about the resources available in your community, which then helps when you need to refer families to community supports. We’ve invited therapy dog training programs, grief counselors, incarceration camp directors, energy assistance programs, warm shelters, our local Community Services Board, and dozens of other agencies who support children and their families and caregivers. Some local organizations are able to provide more intensive support than you may be able to provide, so it’s a win-win to refer families to their resources and services. (Make sure you follow your district’s guidelines for distributing literature to your families — we have a disclaimer statement that our school system does not support or endorse the organizations in addition to a list of guidelines for distribution.)
Organizations supporting families: Partner with a local agencies who support your families, for example, local programs supporting families who have a child with cancer. They provide information, gas money, local connections, and more. We’ve raised money for pediatric cancer research and even worked with organizations including Monkey in My Chair (with permission from the families). Plan a schoolwide 5k to provide further support and raise awareness for these organizations.
Local and national businesses: Each year, my school has an allotment from a large corporation to provide students with much-needed hygiene items, including deodorant and feminine hygiene products. Pay attention to program deadlines and how to get your school on the list. Many places require ordering supplies nearly a year in advance for delivery the following school year.
After-school enrichment opportunities: Local organizations such as Girl Scouts, Cub Scouts, and Girls on the Run are a fun way to bring extracurricular activities to your students. Grab a few colleagues to help sponsor or coach alongside you, and advertise the opportunity to your school community. Don’t be afraid to pioneer a new program — I was the first to bring Girls on the Run to my school district, and now we have teams all over the county! Is there an organization or hobby you love? Think about how you can use it to connect with your students! (I love running, so GOTR was a great outlet for me!) Too busy to stay after yourself? Recruit parent volunteers to teach after-school classes, such as origami or cooking, and help support their efforts!
Local Religious Organizations: I am often approached by local churches asking how they can best support our students. I keep a running list of school supplies we need, as well as those we don’t need! Do you have notebook paper coming out of your ears, but no zipper binders? Be honest and gracious. When churches call ahead, I can help give direction for meaningful ways they can serve.
Local camps and universities: Parents are always asking about summer activities for their children, and chances are, your community may also offer camps for specific needs. I spent many summers volunteering at a local grief camp for children who have lost a family member, and now I feel confident in referring my students there, knowing they are in good hands in a wonderful program. Other camps may include a camp for children with incarcerated parents or a grief camp weekend at a nearby university. Keep an eye out for camps that provide scholarships or payment options.
Holiday Assistance: Collaborate with community resources to provide holiday assistance to deserving families. Some families may need extra assistance in the winter, including winter coats and warm clothes, energy assistance, or gifts for children. We collaborate with a local network of churches and teachers to provide assistance, and we begin the process as early as October!
Local Agencies Supporting Schools: Check with your local Office on Youth, United Way, Salvation Army, and other resources for a list of programs and services they provide. We are fortunate to receive family education programming through our Office on Youth, including parenting classes and support groups, we receive “Stuff the Bus” supplies from The United Way, and holiday assistance from our Salvation Army. The Office on Youth also teaches Family Life Education as part of their programming.
School-family-community partnerships can really take your program to the next level and introduce you to people and services you may not have met or known about otherwise. You may even have several in place that you don’t even have to think about, because your collaboration is so automatic! Do you have that parent volunteer who is always willing to help? A local author who would love a chance to share at an assembly? Grad students looking for meaningful internship placements? Opportunities are all over the place, and by reaching out, you strengthen the fabric of not your own school community, but the surrounding community as well.