Christian Center’s Back 2 School Basics helps students start the school year in style
For many students, it’s a yearly rite of passage: Mom buys new back-to-school outfits, complete with name-brand jeans, a spiffy shirt and new shoes she makes quite clear are under no circumstances to be worn before the first day of school.
But that tradition is unheard of for some underprivileged students in Park City. That’s where the Christian Center of Park City comes in. The organization will host its fourth annual Back 2 School Basics event August 7 at the Tanger Outlets to ensure 500 students, from kindergarten to 11th grade, who would not otherwise receive new school clothes can start the year in style.
Through donations, the event allows each student to spend $100 at six stores at the outlets. They will also be given winter coats and school supplies.
Jenny Mauer, director of programs and volunteers for the Christian Center, said the event’s goal is to make sure underprivileged students can feel confident and prepared on the first day of school and not have to worry about fitting in.
"There’s a huge discrepancy in Park City," she said. "We have super wealthy kids that are showing up in new cars and name brand handbags and backpacks. But if you’re a kid who doesn’t grow up in that type of household, showing up in your sister’s hand-me-downs, you just feel like you’re sticking out like a sore thumb. Whether or not you actually are, that’s how kids perceive themselves when they’re already at a pretty vulnerable, insecure age."
"It’s not that hand-me-downs or clothes from Walmart are inherently bad — but we just want to give them one special outfit that they can feel super cool in."
For some students, the anxiety of trying to blend in can be overwhelming. Mauer said that’s something adults can sometimes forget. So while Back 2 School Basics may not give the students clothes for the entire school year, even one outfit can make a large difference.
"If you’re a (sixth) grader, and you’re walking into Ecker Hill, you’re already intimidated that you’re now in middle school," she said. "You’ve got enough to be worried about. If we can just eliminate that feeling of being insecure, that would be huge. You walk into school like, ‘I own this.’ That confidence is important."
But apart from dazzling in the hallways in the latest styles, it’s crucial for students to also be prepared to take their seats in class. That’s why the event includes an opportunity for residents to donate back-to-school supplies such as backpacks, pencils, paper and everything else students need to rack up the ‘A’s.
"If you get in trouble the first day of school for not having supplies, you’re not really setting yourself up for a good reputation with your teacher," Mauer said. "Even if you have the cool new outfit and you feel confident, if you sit down at your first class and everyone pulls out their school supplies that you don’t have, you’re already behind the game on the first day of school."
Mauer said it’s sometimes difficult to raise awareness for issues like this in Park City because many do not consider that a large portion of Park City School District students are underprivileged. The Christian Center doesn’t have the resources to give them all back-to-school gear, which is why it selects just the 500 neediest students.
"I think that’s something that we struggle with on a daily basis," Mauer said. "The Christian Center also runs the food pantry here in town, and I think we’re constantly fighting this uphill battle of awareness in our community that Park City has the second home owners, then we have the working class population. It’s a huge difference in our community here, and it crosses racial boundaries."
The Christian Center is seeking 500 donations of $100 to raise enough money to support each student — about half of the goal had been met as of last week — and also needs about 200 volunteers to staff the event. Donations for school supplies are also needed. To donate, or for more information, visit ccofpc.org.
A Park City High School senior facing 18 criminal charges admitted to releasing pepper spray in the school’s lecture hall last month to prevent a conservative school club from hosting an event.