Backpacks Raise Hopes, Build Minds, Melt Hearts

Derek Stowe

GCC students expressed their generosity on Oct. 5 in Plaza Vaquero at the Pack-a-Backpack give-away ceremony by presenting $1,000 in school supplies to help local homeless schoolchildren in honor of those who helped victims of 9/11.

“We have around 250 homeless students in the immediate area living in shelters, motels, and cars or on the street,” said event sponsor School-on-Wheels’ representative Natasha Bayus. “We provide a new backpack and supplies for each student we serve.”

School-on-Wheels is a non-profit organization with more than 700 volunteer tutors helping more than 1,500 students in Southern California. Bayus and her volunteer tutors work for needy students at shelters for anywhere from a few weeks to several years. “We want to make a positive difference in the community,” she said.

This second annual Pack-a-Backpack ceremony was organized by GCC’s Center for Student Involvement (CSI), which spent the month collecting donations including supplies, backpacks and $750 in cash. The money was used to purchase even more backpacks and supplies in a symbolic gesture designed to commemorate those who risked their lives to help the survivors and families of the almost 3,000 who perished in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

CSI student worker Edita Isayan said, “I feel awesome [about the ceremony] because I love helping people. I did the bake sale, and we would collect the donations and write names on these yellow school bus circles; and all the teachers were emailed about it.”

Isayan’s message to each homeless student was, “Many people helped collect these backpacks and supplies for you, so now you are equal to the other students. So, you should do well; you have to do well because there is nothing holding you back.”

Fulfillment touched everyone who participated in loading up the 51 backpacks with binders, paper, glue, pens, pencils, post-its and calculators stacked high on two 8-foot tables surrounded below by colorful backpacks including Sponge Bob and Spiderman.

An announcement called students to gather around to help fill the backpacks with supplies and load them up for transport. Several students witnessing the ceremony volunteered.

Also on hand were staff member Nane Kakosian and student workers Lilit Melik-Bashakian and Haik Panosian from the center.

Kakosian said, “There’s always hope and there’s always assistance. If you put your mind to it, there’s a future ahead of you.”
She added this encouragement for those struggling most: “Look ahead. Success is on the way. There are a lot of good role models. Get a mentor. Try to be positive. Think positive. Surround yourself with positive people.”

Melik-Bashakian said “More people should help organizations like [School-on-Wheels]. There are a lot of people in need. I hope this Pack-a-Backpack idea motivates them to do well in school. I wish them the best.”

All in all, the ceremony was well received and melted the hearts of those who participated. The backpacks were all loaded up and delivered to the “School-on-Wheels-mobile.” Panosian, said, “I feel that this project was a success, and I feel proud to be a Vaquero.”

Besides backpacks, school supplies, school uniforms, and one-on-one weekly tutoring, provides children help with entering school and locating lost records. It even has a toll-free number for homeless kids to keep in touch (800) 923-1100.

“Never give up,” said Melik-Bashakian. “Try your best to get out of your worst situation. Always seek help, and it doesn’t matter where you start from, you can always be successful.”