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The Colgate Maroon-News

The Oldest College Weekly in America. Founded 1868.

The Colgate Maroon-News

The Oldest College Weekly in America. Founded 1868.

The Colgate Maroon-News

Backpacks for Kids Lends a Hand to Those in Need

Instagram / @backpacksforkids.colgate

Backpacks for Kids (BFK), a 501(c)(3) certified nonprofit organization founded by four Colgate University alumni through the Thought Into Action (TIA) program, has provided backpacks for hundreds of kids in and out of the United States. The backpacks, filled with school supplies and hygienic and comfort materials, have brought security to children and families in need and allowed them to find agency and control in difficult situations.

Jillian Holliday ’23, Raina Jung ’23, Marie Goodrich ’23 and Cecilia Senyk ’23 founded Backpacks for Kids heading into their sophomore year at Colgate. 

“The backpacks aim to promote a sense of self-security and comfort in a really tough and troubling situation,” Holliday said.“We try to give some agency back to youth who feel like it has been taken away from them, especially by politics and news media.”

The four co-founders shared interests in immigration and public health and combined these interests to create a substantial and meaningful impact.

“My parents are immigrants, so growing up with an immigrant family and learning more about the struggles of immigrant families, refugees and asylum seekers got me interested in the issues,” Jung said. “During the summer, I got an email about Thought into Action that said you can make your own business or non-profit; the non-profit part caught my eye.”  

TIA is a Colgate-run program that enables students to directly engage in entrepreneurship, empowering them to turn their ideas into reality. TIA mentors not only give BFK advice and directions, but help students receive their non-profit certification, or 501(c)(3), as well. 

“[In] our first year with the program, our assigned mentors worked in immigration and non-profits, so it was really interesting to be able to hear their perspectives,” Holliday said. “As college students who had no idea how to go about starting a nonprofit, it was really important and necessary to have those opinions. On top of that, they were really helpful in getting our name out to Colgate alumni and dispersing our message. This helped a lot with fundraising, being able to keep a variety of people in the loop and receiving feedback from them.” 

With the help of TIA, the program leaders learned how to run the non-profit themselves, delegating roles to each member. As the director of outreach, Holliday connected with Gathering Humanity and Bethany Christian Services — two non-profit organizations that help families in need — where BFK sent shipments of backpacks to. She also reached out to potential donors in order to fundraise and connected with lawyers about getting the programs 501(c)(3).

Jung, BFK’s Director of Operations, was in charge of assigning roles, setting up meetings and coming up with ideas. The four co-founders worked together to create a sustainable program that would last even after they graduated. 

Even though they are no longer at Colgate, the co-founders left BFK in good hands. Under the leadership of senior Che Ku Kyet, the current president of BFK, the program has expanded and remains dedicated to its mission of assisting those in need.

“I got involved with Backpacks For Kids because the mission of the nonprofit organization really spoke [to me],” Kyet said.

Kyet shared that her family came to the United States in 2008 as refugees from the Tham Hin Camp in Thailand. Her family received services from The Center, formerly known as The Refugee Center in Utica, N.Y. The center acts as a resource for refugees in the Mohawk Valley Region.

“The backpacks we received helped a lot and it took stress away for my parents,” Kyet said. “The little help of donation and services are so important because it makes [the resettlement] process so much easier and it gave my parents and I the control and agency we didn’t have in the camps.” 

To thank them for their help, Kyet wanted to give back to The Center in Utica as well as other local schools and organizations. In order to do so, BFK took part in various events to raise money, including hosting a film screening of “Utica; The Last Refuge” that was open to the Colgate and Hamilton communities, holding a backpack packing event at the Hub as well as participating in the ALANA Social Justice Summit and Giving Tuesday.

“With the money we raised and the numerous help we received, we were able to donate 20 backpacks to The Center and 50 backpacks to Franklin Elementary School in Syracuse,” Kyet said. “These backpacks were filled with school supplies, hygienic materials and comfort materials.” 

BFK is also supporting those in need outside of the U.S. The organization works with Colgate University’s Tredecim Honor Society, a small group of peer-elected members committed to community, action, reflection and education. 

“We have an ongoing collaboration with Tredecim in working together to raise money to help those in Gaza who are affected by the genocide,” Kyet said. “We have raised almost $200 so far and we are continuing to work together in hopes to raise more money to help and to raise awareness for what is going on there.”

BFK has inspired members to continue working in public health and immigration in the future, allowed children to learn and play, and brought security to hundreds of families. The program is dedicated to providing assistance to those in need well into the future.

“We hope BFK can continue to provide its services for a long time,” Kyet said. “In the future, we hope to have BFK stand alone as its own organization in the real world. We hope to continue our partnership with The Center and continue to donate 20 backpacks annually. With other connections that we make, we hope that they are long-lasting ones.”

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