On Friday, June 1, Ben Jones, Director of Public Affairs- Missouri/ Kansas with the Union Pacific Railroad and Mike Russell, Director of Road Operations, presented a check to RSVP Director Joni Spellmeier and newly hired part-time Office Manager, Kay Nester, in the amount of $2,500.00 from the Union Pacific Foundation. This funding will assist RSVP with its partnership with Help Us Learn…Give Us Hope.
Help us Learn…Give us Hope was founded in January of 2008 at the request of a soldier in Baghdad, Iraq who believed that focusing on needy school children would help build goodwill among the citizens. Colonel Gary LaGrange of Manhattan began shipping school supplies to him and the outcome was far more than expected. It was found that focusing on children caused a significant reduction in hostile activities with a parallel reduction in casualties. Relationships with the citizens improved greatly. As word spread about the program, Governor Sibelius and then Governor Brownback opened National Guard armories to serve as collection and shipping points. Over the past four years, more than 2000 soldiers and units have asked for support. A backpack full of supplies has been provided for 550,000 children in Iraq, Afghanistan and Africa. 18,000 teachers have received supplies. 1,250,000 books have been provided to build libraries.
Today the organization focuses on Afghanistan and this week alone, nearly two tons of supplies are being shipped to several locations in Afghanistan. With an illiteracy rate approaching 90%, the need is vast. The Department of State and the Afghan Ministry of Education have asked that Help us Learn…Give us Hope open offices in three locations in Afghanistan and they have asked that the program be expanded ten-fold in the near future. The Kansas National Guard and several other Non-Governmental Organizations are developing plans to absorb and expand the program.
Colonel Gordon Jacobs working in Wardak Province, Afghanistan, states what is heard from all units supported. “This is the best relationship building program we have and we are putting illiterate children back to school. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!”
RSVP of Northeast Kansas has been involved with Colonel LaGrange and the program for the past year. “People have been so generous in giving used and new school supplies to RSVP to pass on to Colonel LaGrange,” said Spellmeier. Once supplies are collected at the office, Spellmeier takes the boxes to Elm Street Apartments in Marysville, where the RSVP volunteers living there then sort all the supplies into smaller portions and then other RSVP volunteers deliver them to the National Guard Armory in Manhattan.
“We are closing the Manhattan armory while the National Guard considers the program. The Corporation will remain in place for the next year but we will cease taking donations and not make regular shipments until the Guard figures out if and/or how it will handle the program. Thank you for all of your great support. The Union Pacific grant has come at a great time and will help us ship the supplies we have now (about 3000 pounds) and enable us to include some books.” Says Colonel LaGrange.