Project Teacher gearing up for school year with free supplies

07/22/2014 10:14 AM

07/22/2014 10:15 AM

As parents start filling backpacks with school supplies for their children, Project Teacher – a nonprofit organization established by GracePoint Church in Wichita last spring – wants to do the same for local teachers.

Terry Johnson, director of Project Teacher and executive pastor at GracePoint, expects the organization’s store to open just before school starts in mid-August. It will be in the Westlink Shopping Center at Central and Tyler, next to the church. It will offer free school supplies to teachers in the Wichita area.

Businesses, organizations and corporations have created partnerships with Project Teacher, Johnson said, donating office supplies and potentially forming long-term sponsorships, which will allow the store to grow.

“We live in a very giving community, so I knew people would respond really well to this project,” Johnson said.

When the familiar back-to-school supplies list is sent home to parents, teachers find themselves buying the same supplies, often on behalf of students who can’t afford those notebooks or boxes of tissues. Judy Rayl, a retired teacher and volunteer for Project Teacher, said there was never enough money for her to prepare her classroom properly without paying out of her own pocket.

“All the preparation in college will never prepare teachers for the challenges they will face that first year,” Rayl said. “It’s time that we as a community reach out to support, rather than complain about what we don’t like. We need to channel that energy into something that will be very positive for our community.”

So far, donations have primarily consisted of used items. Project Teacher is now looking for donors to provide new supplies, such as Expo markers, Clorox wipes or copy paper.

“Even if people don’t participate in Project Teacher, they could still buy an extra box of pencils or extra set of markers for their teacher at the beginning of the school year when they bring in the rest of their school supplies,” Johnson said.

The store is tackling the misconception that schools provide teachers with all of their essential materials at the start of the year. In reality, the average teacher personally spends between $600 and $1,500 on basic classroom supplies.

“While we’re remembering all the stuff it takes to get ready to go back to school in August, my hope is we don’t forget the teachers who are sacrificing their own personal time and finances for their students,” Johnson said.

While Project Teacher is fueled by volunteers and leaders of GracePoint Church, it is a separate nonprofit, so Johnson said businesses that don’t ordinarily support faith-based organizations could still partner with the project.

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