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Assistance League of Colorado Springs benefits area children 

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click to enlarge ALCS' Operation School Bell gets kids into new clothing. - COURTESY ASSISTANCE LEAGUE OF COLORADO SPRINGS
  • Courtesy Assistance League of Colorado Springs
  • ALCS' Operation School Bell gets kids into new clothing.

For many families, the school year begins with a shopping trip for supplies and clothes. But for families struggling financially, spending money on new clothing simply isn't a possibility. Fortunately, the Assistance League of Colorado Springs (ALCS) is working to change that, providing income-qualified kids with new clothing for school through its Operation School Bell program.

ALCS has served El Paso County since 1970. The local chapter is part of the national Assistance League, deploying the parent organization's branded programs and a few of its own initiatives in the community. In addition to Operation School Bell, ALCS provides hearing screenings to preschoolers through Operation Can You Hear Me?, Halloween costumes to kids in need through Halloween Wishes and comfort teddy bears to trauma survivors through the Buddy Bear program.

Last year, ALCS's Operation School Bell Program clothed more than 2,800 children in El Paso County, relying on funds from the organization's Bargain Box Thrift store (located at 405 S. Nevada Ave.), gifts and grants. Each child who participates receives $75 to $100 to purchase new clothing, including shoes, socks, pants and shirts. Qualification for the program is determined by the child's school, with eligibility relying upon the Colorado Department of Education's free and reduced-price school meal guidelines.

"Every school gets a certain number of slots to recommend," says Pat Holley, volunteer and chair of the ALCS Give! planning committee. In its early days, ALCS volunteers purchased clothing and had children in the community come and pick out what they needed. These days, to accommodate the changing style desires of each new generation, ALCS holds the clothing event at Kohl's on Powers Boulevard. The organization purchases gift cards from the store at a discount and the store supplements the ALCS team with staff members who volunteer after hours. For every employee who volunteers, Kohl's gives ALCS a grant.

ALCS has other programs in place to serve the community. Last year, it provided 300 Assault Survivor Kits for Memorial Hospital to give survivors of sexual assault and domestic abuse. That's a program that ALCS initiated in 1995, the same year the hospital introduced its Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner program. When assault victims go to the hospital, their clothing is often taken as evidence, leaving them to go home in whatever the hospital has on hand. Assault Survivor Kits provide them with clean clothing, flip-flops and hygiene supplies.

"Their experience is traumatic enough," says Shirley Miekka, ALCS's marketing communications volunteer. "We want to provide them any comfort we can."

ALCS also works with the local nonprofit Urban Peak to provide teens leaving homelessness with new mattresses and bed frames for their new apartments. "We are always asking ourselves: What can we do that no one else can?" says Miekka. "And when we find that need, we work hard to fill it."

The organization provides all of these services via a team of 140 unpaid volunteers. In the last year, more than 22,000 hours were invested in running the thrift shop and working the Operation School Bell events and other activities. Both Miekka and Holley would love to see their volunteer list grow. They also hope to attract younger generations passionate about carrying the mission into the future.

"We are dedicated to improving the lives of children in El Paso County," says Holley. "We truly care."

Visit assistanceleague.org/colorado-springs for more information.

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