ABOVE: A girl is about to enter Target last week as part of the Bright Beginnings’ shopping experience.
Excitement was evident in the fluorescent-lit aisles of the Chester Target Aug. 13 as 24 children eagerly shopped for new back-to-school clothes with their designated shopping buddies.
Students arrived by bus and were paired with their volunteers from the YMCA and various other charities as part of the Bright Beginnings program, a three-day event held before the start of school each year.
Once paired, half of the group enjoyed a dinner of sandwiches and chips, while the other half shopped for new outfits. Each child had a budget of $100 to buy two outfits, a pair of shoes, undergarments, socks and a coat for the new school year.
Volunteers were given the opportunity to help as shopping buddies, dressing room attendants, photographers or cash register assistants.
Funds for the program were donated by various local charities. Tara’s Children, a nonprofit located in Richmond, donates frequently to the YMCA of Greater Richmond and the Bright Beginnings program. The private charity was founded by Tara Meredith Welch, a local school teacher who had a reputation of giving back to her students.
Bright Beginnings was founded on the same principles and works to donate backpacks, school supplies and food to students across the county.
Welch’s sister and a volunteer of the charity, Kate Baker, has donated her time to the Bright Beginnings event for over nine years.
“Without the YMCA and the Bright Beginnings program, the kids wouldn’t have the clothing, much less the confidence,” she said. “I think the YMCA gives them a lot more than physical, materialistic things.”
“I normally like to work the register because the kids can see when [their items are] being tallied up and are put in a bag with their name on it. They are all smiles ear to ear,” said Karen Lewis, the YMCA’s associate membership director.