BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — A Fairfield mom who volunteers at a Bridgeport school was inspired to start a nonprofit foundation after she found that many of the children there lacked basic supplies and did not go on field trips.
Now everyone can help her nonprofit — Brighter Lives for Kids Foundation — by attending a fundraising tea set for Wednesday at the Patterson Club in Fairfield.
The foundation was the brainchild of Fairfield resident Jimeale Hede, a mother of young children who was a volunteer at Cesar A. Batalla School in Bridgeport.
She was struck with the lack of basic supplies and was inspired to start the foundation after volunteering in one of the classrooms to read to the students.
“How can a child learn without essential tools? These elementary classrooms didn’t have scissors or pencils, and teachers were only allocated $24 to purchase a year’s worth of classroom items in a school where most children live far below the poverty line,” she said. “It was heartbreaking.”
The foundation aims to enrich children's education and further prepare them for future success by providing funding for basic school supplies, field trips and extracurricular activities.
With the help of friends, Hede quickly stocked classrooms with materials, but she realized that the need was much greater than simply providing pencils and paper, which led her to establish the foundation.
"I asked about taking the students on a field trip and was told there is not money for field trips. The kids don't go on field trips," she recounted in a Daily Voice interview.
"When I was in a class helping with spelling and I couldn't find a pencil, I looked at the teacher and he gave me a look of, 'Good luck. We don't have anymore.' So I had to break another pencil in half so I had two pencils," said the resourceful mother of three.
She explained how the foundation began.
"The kids were beautiful and adorable, and I got addicted to them. They said, 'Are you coming back to read, Miss J?' I said to the teacher, 'I want to go on a field trip.' The teacher said, 'There's no money for a field trip.' They didn't even have supplies," she said. "I told the principal I'm going to raise $5,000 for supplies and send them on a field trip. He looked at me like I had two heads. I went to my friends and raised $20,000."
Since then, she has worked tirelessly trying to provide funding and supplies at the public school, even if it means driving around to pick up donated books for the new library at scores of locations, said the Australia native.
One of the ways is to encourage others to help out. Volunteers are needed in a number of ways. They can help weekly or biweekly in classrooms; middle and high school students can help with an after-school program; and anyone can donate books or money.
All proceeds raised at the Morning Tea, including $30 of each ticket, will directly benefit elementary students at Cesar A. Batalla School.
Funds raised at last year’s tea helped send hundreds of students on field trips to Earthplace and Stepping Stones, as well as three TAG students to Washington, D.C.
Further funding was allocated to classroom supplies, lockers, rugs, learning materials and books.
The ticket price include tea, scones and other baked goods. In addition, the fundraiser will also have a silent auction.
Among the items auctioned will be large framed photographs of students participating in activities sponsored by Brighter Lives for Kids.
Hede said she hopes attendees will get a real feel for the students of the school and see how the foundation is helping the kids.
By purchasing a photograph and donating it back to the school, Hede hopes to brighten and fill the hallways with the students’ smiling faces.
The foundation has stuffed 500 backpacks with pajamas and toys at Christmas in 2015 and 2016; provided a summer reading program and tutors for students; allowed 350 kids to enjoy Jay and Ray concerts; and this fall, purchased 6,000 used books for an Early Childhood Library established at Cesar A. Batalla School, because of the foundation's work.
In addition, a fall soccer program will begin this fall.
Morning Tea tickets are available through Eventbrite through Wednesday at bl4k.eventbrite.com .
Support for the soccer program may be made through the GoFundMe page here .
Support for the library's book donation initiative may be made through the GoFundMe page here.
The Morning Tea is from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. Wednesday at the club.
Tickets are $55. Contact Jimeale Hede at Brighterlivesforkids@gmail.com .
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