Norman Nonprofit Gives Children Chance to Start School with Dignity

There’s nothing like starting the first day of school with new clothes and a new pair of shoes. Some children have not had the opportunity to experience that, and that’s where Assistance League of Norman comes in.

“We want children to go back to school with their head held high,” Assistance League of Norman President-elect Stephanie Clinton said.

The Assistance League is a nonprofit organization that focuses its efforts on promoting philanthropic programs in Norman and the surrounding area. The Norman chapter started in 1974 with about 50 members, and has grown to about 400 members today.

Clinton said the organization helps everyone, from infants to adults, through programs. Its pride and joy is the Operation School Bell program.

Operation School Bell clothes school children, identified by counselors at Norman and Little Axe public schools, providing new clothes for school, as well as basic necessities.

“The Assistance League of Norman wants to impact the lives of children to get them ready for school and help them succeed in that school setting,” Clinton said.

According to Clinton, Operation School Bell began in 1978, and continues to serve students from pre-school to high school.

She said about 1,700 students were served last year, but that number isn’t close to the amount of students who are in need.

The organization is hoping to reach about 500 more students over the next couple of years.

“It still wouldn’t reach all of the kids that need it, but it would be a step closer,” Clinton said.

Operation School Bell chairperson Teri Komiske said, based on conversations with teachers, they have seen a positive change in the children’s lives.

“[The children] sit up straighter, participate better and the overall educational experience for them improves. That’s the whole reason we do what we do,” she said.

Komiske said every student receives a new backpack as well as new clothes, including, two pairs of pants, three shirts, five pairs of socks and underwear, a shoe card, grooming kit and a brand-new winter coat.

“We see kids that go through our program that have never owned a pair of socks before,” she said. “The basic needs people have such as socks, underwear, these kids don’t have. We think every child should have a fair chance.”

Komiske credits support from the Norman community for Operation School Bell’s success.

“We have some really great people in this community,” she said. “This year we were so happy to have members of the Norman Police Department, Prairie Oil & Gas, as well as other community members who lent a hand.”

Norman Public Safety Information Officer Sarah Jensen said the department is proud to be a part of programs like Operation School Bell.

“[Norman] officers look forward to the opportunity to volunteer with the program and assist students through their shopping experience, an opportunity to both give back and mentor some our youngest community members,” she said. “Officers have seen firsthand how Operation School Bell is making a lasting difference in the lives of those who are served by the program.”

Komiske said the program also provides clothing for victims of fires or in instances where DHS removes a child from a home due to an emergency situation.

The Assistance League of Norman promotes other programs as well. Bears for Children is a program in partnership with Norman Police that provides bears to children in the community who are in the midst of a crisis or facing a traumatic event. Senior R&R provides entertainment for clients of Full Circle Life Enrichment Center. Assault Survival Kits provides supplies given to survivors of rape and other violent assault.

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