STORY KIEN VU | PHOTOGRAPHY FAIR USE

Designed to help Lakota students and families in need of supplies, the Neighborhood Bridges Group’s “Gateway for Kindness” program has been continuing to support the district this semester through donating clothes, shoes, jackets, school supplies, donations for medical expenses, and even furniture and household items. 

While this program is a recent addition to the Lakota community as of April 2020, Gateway for Kindness is not a newly established  program. Neighborhood bridges is a statewide program that partners with many Ohio school districts and counties including Lebanon, Sycamore, Worthington, Lakota, etc. The Gateway for Kindness program was established nationwide in January of 2017 and, according to Neighborhood Bridges, approximately 36 counties in Ohio and Alabama have participated. Lakota Parent Engagement and Community Outreach Coordinator Leah Aguilar has joined the new program as an area director. 

“The Neighborhood Bridges ‘Gateway for Kindness’ program is designed to facilitate support of the Lakota’s students and families in need with our community’s generosity,” Leah Aguilar told Spark “We partner with many incredible organizations to help our families.” Organizations include Reach out Lakota, Faith Alliance, St. Vincent de Paul, and the Butler County Emergency Money Fund.

With popular community programs including Reach Out Lakota and Gateway for Kindness, the local community has multiple ways to donate to families in need. 

“This partnership [for Gateway for Kindness] is not a replacement for any of our existing programs,” Aguilar said. “Instead, it is another way that our community members are able to help our families. While this program is similar to Reach Out Lakota in that they are both helping our families, Neighborhood Bridges asks for specific items to [cater to] specific needs a family may have.” 

In 2012, there were only 15 liaisons in Butler county. Since then, the number has grown to over 40 with 10 being in the last year. 

Every school building has an “advocate” that families can go to. These advocates are usually counselors or school liaisons. Advocates request items on the behalf of the student and their family. one of the seven Liaisons in the Lakota District Jeniffer Tye is the advocate for Lakota East. 

“It’s my job to connect with families and their students, so that the students can basically focus on learning instead of maybe being hungry or struggling with mental illness,” Tye told Spark.

To qualify, families usually have to be living below the poverty line to receive help. However, any families that are struggling are eligible to apply. Families that are struggling with anything from household supplies,  money for rent or medical bills, or resources for mental health are able to receive help. 

“A family of four can make almost $50,000 a year and still qualify,” Tye told Spark. “Families that maybe are over that threshold, but they are struggling with a life event or a loss of a parent.” 

“I might not be able to help them to the same extent as families that fall below the poverty level,” Tye told Spark. “But I’m still going to offer them what I can and do what I can.”

Lakota Board of Education President Kelly Casper has recently taken on the role of area director for the outreach program.

“Advocates know what other organizations may be able to help the student,” Casper told Spark. “We really fill the gap if other organizations can’t help.”

Additionally, advocates help protect the privacy of students involved in the program.

“Only the advocates know [students’] identity,” Casper said. “Not even myself nor the other area director know who the student is.” 

Supplies needed for donations can be found via email updates and social media posts from the Neighborhood Bridges website and sign up for their email. These supplies are updated through their email.

“Community members and businesses can subscribe to email updates on the Neighborhood Bridges Lakota website, as well as on social media,” Aguilar said. 

For more specific situations, families can request additional supplies through a secured portal to protect their identities. These requests are then sent out to the community via email and social media. Supplies can be dropped off at the Lakota District Office at 5572 Princeton Rd, Liberty Township OH 45011 or the various fire departments around West Chester and Liberty Township.  

“That feeling when we’re able to get a family’s rent paid or a kid gets new glasses and they haven’t been able to see at home, that feeling and that being able to help it just gives me such a happy satisfaction,” Tye told Spark. “ Obviously I’m always working but I feel like it’s an extra good day when something like that comes together like that and I feel like I really helped someone today.”