“Wow! Backpacks!”

“I want a blue one!”

“Hey, look! There’s even stuff inside!”

These were some of the excited cries heard at a local elementary school on April 18 as students from Mays Business School at Texas A&M University passed out new knapsacks filled with school supplies. Each of the 601 young scholars at the K-5 facility in Bryan, Texas received donated supplies provided by the second annual Project Mays, a service organized by the Business Student Council (BSC). Mays students orchestrated the entire event, from the corporate and individual fundraising, to the collection and distribution of materials. In all, the group collected $15,815 in monetary donations and supplies.

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“We were looking for a way for the students and faculty of Mays to come together to help the community,” said Michael Kurt ’09, BSC vice president in charge of events. Kurt says when the council was considering different organizations in the community, the needs of the Bryan Independent School District really stuck out to them. A large majority of the students in that district are on the government-funded free and reduced lunch program, indicating some level of economic hardship. Kurt says they wanted to be sure that these economically disadvantaged learners had all the supplies necessary to succeed in the classroom.

Mary Walraven, coordinator for special programs and lead social worker for Bryan ISD agreed with Kurt’s assessment. “This is a high economically disadvantaged campus,” she said. “Many times these kids go home to wonderful parents and homes but the family may not have access to a lot of extras like crayons and pens and pencils.” Walraven says she hopes the students will use their new supplies for summer learning opportunities so that they can stay excited about school while they’re on vacation.

Mays BSC partnered in this effort with corporate sponsors LyondellBasell, El Paso, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Tesoro, and UHY Certified Public Accountants. Together, these sponsors provided $11,500 in support.

“Working with the business school at A&M and being part of our community is important at LyondellBasell and so when we found out that the business school, the Business Student Council, was doing a project, we wanted to be a part of that,” said Warren Prihoda ’92, a senior manager at the company. Prihoda and several colleagues were on hand at the Project Mays event to help pass out backpacks to the elementary students.

In addition to corporate gifts, dozens of Mays students joined forces to collect supplies like glue, crayons, pencils, and pens. The supplies were sorted for distribution, and each backpack was also furnished with a special extra: a note of encouragement from an Aggie.

“It was definitely an overwhelming response from the students of Mays,” said Kurt. Though only the students of one school were given full backpacks, the remaining supplies will be distributed throughout the other schools of Bryan ISD. Kurt estimates their donations will help 2,200 elementary students in the area.

Overseeing Project Mays was Greg Kwedar’s final act as president of the BSC before graduating this spring. He says the effort on behalf of these elementary students was an important investment in the future, as so many of them are already considered “at-risk” due to family and economic indicators.

“Right now, even just through backpacks, school supplies, and just being a positive role model for these kids, we can start to make a difference there…and that was why we did this project,” said Kwedar.

Kurt agrees. “They have dreams, they have goals, they have ambitions, but a lot of times, unfortunately they don’t have the opportunities to see those dreams become reality…We’re just helping out with one backpack and supplies that will last maybe one summer, but we’re showing them that we have faith in them. We know that they can do anything they set their minds to.”