Families in the Kent City School District can now seek help from their neighbors for things like food, clothing and household items through an anonymous platform operated by the nonprofit Neighborhood Bridges.
Founded in 2017, Neighborhood Bridges allows communities to create their own space on the platform, where local administrators can share needs that arise from schools, mental health agencies, religious centers and other community groups.
The Kent school district became the first community in Northeast Ohio to operate a Neighborhood Bridges portal when it launched last month.
“Kent is a close-knit and generous community — a community that comes together for those in need,” Superintendent George Joseph said. “By utilizing Neighborhood Bridges, we are able to ensure that 100% of what is raised in our community is used to meet the needs of those in our community. We want our students and their families to be able to focus on being the best they can be while at school rather than worrying about their next meal, sleeping on a hard floor or having proper fitting shoes and clothing.”
Kent City Schools serves approximately 3,100 students and operates six schools — four elementary schools, one middle school and one high school. The district comprises the City of Kent, Franklin Township, and the villages of Brady Lake and Sugar Bush Knolls.
As a tool for teachers, counselors and social workers, Neighborhood Bridges Kent will aid in meeting essential needs for at-risk and underprivileged students with the aim of removing barriers to learning.
Justin Gates, director of student services for the Kent City Schools, was the one responsible for bringing Neighborhood Bridges to Kent. He learned about it while remotely attending the Ohio School Boards Association Capital Conference.
“As I was listening to the presentation I’m thinking, ‘My gosh, we have to bring this to Kent,’” Gates said. “We have needs in our community. Almost half of our kids are at an impoverished level. We want to make sure that our kids are coming to school having gotten a good night’s sleep with full bellies.”
The organization, headquartered in Westerville, has driven direct support and care to more than 275,000 students and families through more than $5 million in giving since its founding in 2017. Neighborhood Bridges operates its Gateway for Kindness in 41 communities throughout Ohio, Alabama and Tennessee.
“Kent is just a model community for us,” said Rick Bannister, CEO and founder of Neighborhood Bridges. “There’s a lot of support from the school district at the highest levels, a lot of excitement and enthusiasm from school district counselors, social workers and administrators. They’ve done a great job to engage the community. They’ve created awareness for our work and for our mission. For that, I’m really grateful.”
The platform works by assigning advocates who can post needs via a secure portal that maintains recipient anonymity. Neighborhood Bridges then shares those needs through daily emails and social media posts. Advocates include school principals, assistant principals and school counselors, as well as Megan Johns, the recreation specialist for Kent Parks and Recreation who manages the before- and after-school-care and summer camps.
Typical needs include food, clothing, shoes, coats, eye exams, school supplies, school fees, furniture, household items and monetary donations for household expenses.
“We’ve had two advocates post two needs, and one was filled within five minutes and the other was filled within a couple hours,” said Kathleen Wiler, area director of Neighborhood Bridges Kent. “One was for a pair of shoes for a child, and the other was for a walkway to make an area handicap-accessible for a student in a wheelchair.”
Since first interviewing Wiler, several more needs have been posted and filled. As of Sunday evening, two needs were open.
According to Wiler, the program works like this:
When an advocate becomes aware of a need, they can log in to the Neighborhood Bridges website and post their need. Wiler receives and alert, reviews the posting to make sure the need is clearly communicated, and then approves it.
If someone offers to fill the need, Wiler gets in touch with the person to coordinate the dropoff of the items. Wiler brings the items to the advocate, who then provides them to the recipient.
“The advocates are the only ones who are aware of that individual or that family’s need,” Wiler said.
The three dropoff areas are the Kent Recreation Center at 1115 Franklin Ave., the Kent Police Department at 301 S. Depeyster St. and the Portage County Board of Developmental Disabilities at 2606 Brady Lake Road.