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AWARE: Invaluable to the School District

AWARE—is it an acronym for something? Recently in an interview with program manager Julie Hermanson, this question was answered. About eleven years ago, Julie came to the conclusion that families in Evansville and the surrounding townships needed a safety net, a place where they could go when assistance was needed. She started checking into possibilities. Julie contacted the United Way, proposed a plan for community projects and created a local board with the help of then elementary school principal Gary Albrecht. She received an initial grant from the United Way of $5000 which the City Council matched. Julie came up with the name “AWARE” hoping that it would encourage people to recognize there were needs in our community and that there were places to go for help…no acronym!

AWARE in Evansville, a program of Community Action, Inc. has made a huge impact in the lives of our school children. One major contribution is the Snackpackers program. This program provides breakfast, lunch and snacks for 76 families each weekend. Each week students in grades K-8 in the program wheel a backpack filled with food to their homes to help them through the weekend. We are one of two school systems that have this program, thanks to Lou Havlik, elementary principal, who was willing to pilot the program several years ago. The food donations come from Madison’s Second Harvest, an agency that serves 16 counties. Donations also come from the Evansville Fund, Lions Club, Piggly Wiggly, Magnolia 4H, and the Girl Scouts. Backpacks are filled and delivered via Lions Club members and other volunteers, including Middle and High School students. School employees Lindsay Reese, Marybeth Anderson, and Shawn Dunphy, make sure empty backpacks are returned each week to AWARE to be refilled. This program also serves as a vehicle for communication of resources available to parents in the area.

Many other programs benefit our students. Koats for Kids enables parents to get coats, boots, hats and mittens from the AWARE office. Extras are brought to the schools for students who need them. Rub-a-Dub-Dub Days at the elementary and intermediate schools focus on health and hygiene. Students learn about personal hygiene and bring in soap, shampoo, and bath items to distribute to low-income families through the Care Closet. Another service provided by AWARE for children is Cakes for Kids. Parents can order birthday cakes that can be personalized for their children. The homemade cakes are baked and decorated by resident Susan Case. AWARE’s Easter Basket program provides items for family dinners and candy-filled eggs which are then distributed at the Care Closet. The Knights of Columbus raise money to buy the food and give out the baskets.

With the holidays upon us, Toys for Evansville is currently in full swing. National Honor Society students helped to create the ornaments that list children’s wishes and pick up food donations throughout the community. From collecting food, to donating wrapping paper, to hosting bake sales, book fairs, and various events to raise money to adopt children in the program, Evansville students of all ages open up their hearts and hands to help others. Many volunteers are preparing for the distribution of food and gifts to families who could use the support. Giving trees are located around town and in the schools. Gifts are purchased, food is donated by the FFA (Future Farmers of America), the Piggly Wiggly, Larson Acres, T.P. Produce, and Second Harvest. School personnel work to distribute the gifts and food an evening in December. In our current economy, this is a wonderful way to give support to others.

The Love Light Tree ceremony which honors those living and deceased, provides an opportunity for our school musicians to perform. Members of the high school band have performed for many years, as well as the middle school chorus.

Evansville schools work closely with local day cares, Exchange Family Resource Center and AWARE to coordinate the annual Week of the Young Child. This celebration is culminated with a parade during the day and a fun-filled family event in the evening.

A fairly new campaign has been started to raise awareness of teen relationship abuse. The Evansville Fund has been instrumental in starting this campaign. Additional funding from the Wisconsin United Methodist Foundation enabled AWARE to purchase curriculum that is in use at the high school, and several steps have been taken to create an awareness of the signs of abuse, including a billboard “Know the Signs” on display in three locations in Rock County. The Refuse 2 Bruise student planning group has been created to keep the message alive, and this program is in the process of expanding to the middle school. Presentations have been given to parents in Evansville and Janesville.

“AWARE” seems to have been a good choice for naming this organization. Julie’s hope is that “through all of this, we get our kids connected to their communities, no matter where they live in the future. By working together, we do just so much more.”

Parents who would like to check out AWARE and its programming can call 882-9900, email aware@community-action.org, or check out AWARE in Evansville on Facebook, where pictures of programs are posted.