Making a Difference: The World of Giving - Going Back to School and Giving Back to Educators

The approaching Labor Day holiday means one thing to many and at least two things to parents: it's the unofficial close of summer and time for the kids to head back to school. Back-to-school shopping can be a nightmare, but the school supplies parents provide can mean more to teachers than they may know.

An associate of mine mentioned an article she once wrote about autistic students. She was astounded by the amount of resources and tools a local special education teacher personally supplied to a classroom of less than 10 high school students. What shocked her even more was when the teacher pointed to a set of overflowing bookshelves and told her that all of those books had come from her paycheck over the years.

A recent survey reported that educators need roughly $1,000 worth of school supplies each year -- yet their annual stipends are typically the first thing to go with budget cuts. Teachers end up spending approximately $485 of that estimated $1,000 out of pocket, according to a study done in 2013 by the National School Supply and Equipment Association. The study also found that only 25 percent of teachers said that parents were required to pay for school supplies, which is down from 47 percent in 2010. Overall, teachers in the United States are spending a whopping $1.6 billion out of their own pockets each year.

But we can all help. There's so much that we can do to help alleviate the stress and burden of both educators and parents who can't afford to purchase the annual required school supplies. When you go on your hunt for school supplies, buy a second back pack to fill with everything on the list. Then donate it to your child's classroom for a student who may not have everything he or she needs on the first day of school. Office Depot is part of the National Backpack Program, which provides backpacks to needy students.

Take advantage of sales and buy extra items to donate to your child's school or schools in a poverty stricken area. With school closings and consolidations happening in many areas, school supplies may be at the lower end of the priority list, but are always in need. If you have the time and the resources, the little that you give can be a tremendous help to others.

Here are five more ways you can be Making A Difference to teachers and students this school year:
  1. Help a Special Ed classroom by donating to, in which proceeds help supply classrooms with needed materials.
  2. Choose exactly where your donations and supplies go to through The Giving Effect, which hosts donation links for numerous causes.
  3. Fill a backpack a different way through the International Rescue Committee. Twenty dollars goes a long way for refugee children starting school in America.
  4. See what you can donate to your nearest school district. Chicago Public Schools are always in need of any extra items that can be given.
  5. Be an ambassador year round for a teacher in need and Adopt-A-Classroom. One hundred percent of your donation goes to the classroom you've selected.

I believe in the saying, "It takes a village to raise a child." Let's work together to be a close-knit village, ensuring all students have the items and materials they need to be successful. By helping others, you'll be Making A Difference.