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Purchasing school supplies can be a large financial burden for low-income families, but the EER program and Jefferson City Commission on Human Relations hope to ease this burden while encouraging student interaction.

The commission announced Friday it plans to partner with EER — enrichment, exploration and research — to host a fundraiser for school supplies for incoming kindergarteners at Southwest Early Childhood Center.

EER is a gifted elementary and middle school program housed at SWECC that serves children living in the Jefferson City Public Schools district who qualify for the program.

For the fundraiser, the Jefferson City Public Schools culinary arts program would make and cater in food, which the commission said it would pay for. The public could purchase tickets, and EER students would serve the food and wait on tables.

All proceeds and tips would go to the EER kindergarten kickstart program, commissioner Jane Barnes said.

“It’s imperative that we make these preschool-aged children feel supported and find value in their education and feel invested in their educational process that they’re starting,” she said.

The kindergarten kickstart program would not only help economically disadvantaged students receive school supplies, EER elementary teacher Gregory Medlin told the commission last month, but EER students also would have an opportunity to interact with people from different backgrounds.

The majority of preschoolers at SWECC qualify for free and reduced-price lunch, Medlin said last month.

EER students would pack backpacks with school supplies, write letters of encouragement and provide the backpacks to graduating SWECC preschool children as part of the program.

“I think due to the makeup of that part of the school — 80 percent are economically disadvantaged — I think we owe it to them because the product where they come from doesn’t mean they’re not smart,” commission chair Mitchell Woodrum said. “They have all of the potential in the world, and to give them a leg up and feel confident when going to school with a backpack and the school supplies they need I think is a great start.”

The estimated cost for school supplies per child is about $50, Barnes said. SWECC currently serves 195 preschoolers, said Ryan Burns, Jefferson City Public Schools communication director.

While ticket prices have not been finalized, Woodrum said, they would be similar to the price of school lunches.

A date has not been set for the fundraiser, but it most likely will be in the spring, Barnes said.

The commission hopes EER will encourage relationship-building between the program and SWECC through things like tutoring and reading sessions.

The commission is also looking to partner on other projects. It plans to contact Lincoln University’s Student Government Association about partnering on voter registration events.

“Getting students at Lincoln involved in their community and giving them a voice and (educating them on) why voting is so important and why doing research on a candidate you’re voting for is important is a great thing,” Woodrum said. “Voting is such a simple thing you can do to make a big difference in the community — voting for people who represent you in a community so they can vote for and push things that are important for you.”

The commission also plans to contact organizers of the Cole County Youth Day to discuss hosting a second event. The third annual Cole County Youth Day was held last week, and about 25 youth attended.

Youths said issues they faced in their schools and communities included racism, bullying, intolerance and anxiety. They suggested the community hold more youth events to give students a chance to voice their concerns and suggestions.

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