The National Joint Powers Alliance, the premier School Solutions Center partner of AASA, awards cash grants annually, known as Helping Kids mini-grants, to a select number of school districts to help address hardships faced by individual students and families.
In the wake of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria last summer and fall, AASA and NJPA awarded 28 school districts a $2,000 grant to help meet some immediate health, social service or academic needs of students and their families. (The school district recipients appear on page 31 of the AASA conference program booklet.)
Chad Coauette, executive director and CEO of National Joint Powers Alliance, addressed the audience about the longstanding partnership with AASA. NJPA is a self-supporting government organization that partners with education, government and nonprofits perhaps best known for its cooperative purchasing. Any public entity can sign up for membership.
“Our members will tell you it gives them access to nearly 300 nationally awarded procurement contracts that save them money on everything from school supplies, to food services and construction projects. Beyond streamlining and simplifying public procurement processes for our members, we provide programs impacting the lives of students,” he said.
In a typical year, up to 28 public school districts across the U.S. receive a $2,000 Helping Kids Mini Grant.
“2017 was not a typical year,” Coauette said. “Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria wreaked havoc in parts of Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands this fall. The hardest-hit areas are still reeling. As Dan mentioned, AASA came to us with the idea to use our Helping Kids program to help children and families in some of those communities. We said, ‘Absolutely’ – we couldn’t imagine a better use of this year’s grants.”
The 28 recipient districts in Texas and Florida received their grants mid-December. “The stories we’ve heard about how funds have been used have been incredible and humbling,” he said.
The Galena Park Independent School District in Houston presented three families with $500 VISA gift cards, which were used to purchase household items lost in the storms. School staff took what remained of the grant and enlisted the help of a local furniture store to purchase beds and bedding for a fourth family with four members who had been sharing one bed in their temporary housing situation while rebuilding their home.
In the wake of Hurricane Maria, Hillsborough County Public Schools in Tampa, Fla., received an unexpected influx of 900 students from Puerto Rico. The district pooled its AASA/NJPA grant with other funds to purchase sweatshirts – with University of Florida, Florida State or University of South Florida logos – as well as toiletry items and gift cards for food for a significant number of students.
“The students were truly grateful for the sweatshirts – which guarded them from the cold and helped them fit in with the culture at their new school – and for the other essential items that gave them comfort and nourishment,” Coauette said. “Equally important, though, was the opportunity for the students to meet and talk with others across grade levels who were in the same situation and trying to acclimate to a new home, often with extended family, and a new school. Many shared that the feeling of isolation lifted slightly with the realization that so many students were experiencing the similar struggles of living through the desolation.”
As a result, the school has planned more opportunities for informal gatherings for these students throughout the spring.
“These are just a couple examples of how districts are using these grants to provide relief and help establish stability and a sense of normalcy for students,” he told the AASA conference audience.