Streamers and balloons begin to appear in the dining room of Cornerstone Community Outreach. Tables and chairs are rearranged to make room for something special that will soon happen. Children are wide-eyed with anticipation and intrigue as they walk through this bustling activity on their way to the local Target store where they will each pick out a brand new pair of shoes to start the school year.
Ed, the sound guy, shows up to set up microphones and amplifiers. Face painters appear with colors, brushes, and lots of ideas. The balloon man comes. JPUSA Boy Scout Troop No 886 arrives to set up and serve food. Representatives from the local Chicago Public School come loaded down with boxed Back-to-School supply kits, one for each student according to their grade level. CCO staff arrange backpacks on tables that have been
donated by people from local churches and organizations. Little Caesar’s pizzas arrive, hot and steamy. Gigantic Costco sheet cakes are cut, plated, and set out on the serving tables.
The children return from their shoe shopping trip to a magically-transformed dining room where the rally is about to begin. Music is playing, loud and pulsating. Parents and children take their seats. Little ones squirm with excitement.
Special guests will soon arrive who will cheerlead the children and their parents into the upcoming school year. Anticipation builds as everyone wonders who it will be – Father Michael Pflaeger from his southside church
or a local DJ, or possibly the woman who lived at CCO as a homeless child, but now travels the US making six figures at her job. Maybe the local rap dance group who can engage even the coolest teens in the audience.
Dancing, cheering, clapping ensues as the audience rises to its feet. The look of relief on parents’ faces says it all. This will help them face the upcoming school year with their children, despite living in a homeless shelter.
With pizza in hand, faces are painted, balloon animals are received. The decibel level in the dining room rises to a point so loud that one can hardly hear or talk. Children eagerly run to receive their brand new backpacks and school supply kits. It’s truly a time of celebration!
This is how we do the Back-to-School-Rally at CCO. So many thanks to our tireless CCO staff, who make this happen every year. Also greatly appreciated are the countless volunteers who generously give their time and talents to make each child know that they are special.
In spite of the immense amount of time and effort put forth, none of this would be possible without generous financial contributions. Each dollar raised helps to send our CCO children back to school in a big way, and makes it the best school year ever.
Sandra Ramsey has been the Executive Director of Cornerstone Community Outreach for over 30 years. She lives at Jesus People with her husband Chris. The Back-To-School Rallies held by CCO are one of her favorite events.