Kids Matter International Gives Joy for the Holidays
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By Rhonda Ross
In this land of plenty that we call north Texas, it may seem difficult to imagine but there are many who live below the poverty level. According to the US Census Bureau more than thirteen percent of Tarrant County residents find themselves in this predicament. Unfortunately, Dallas County isn’t faring well either with almost eighteen percent of its population struggling to make ends meet. At the heart of these hard times are children who need help in order to break what often times is an endless cycle of poverty. And at the heart of the matter is Kids Matter International- a Southlake based charitable organization and their annual “Around the Block” holiday shopping event. With this event, and others throughout the year, Kids Matter International aims to help children in need, both at home and abroad.
Traveling back in time more than five years ago Mike Kiselak, a former Dallas Cowboy and Kids Matter International board member, was presented with an opportunity while at his local church. The church had been working with the Kohl’s department store in Irving on an annual clothing drive for children in need.
The well-known event became so popular stores in the area who were neighbors to the Kohl’s store sent their employees to help volunteer and many stores sent checks as well. Despite the generosity of so many, Kiselak became aware that fifty children had to be turned away due to insufficient resources. Motivated to do what he could to help make up the difference, he immediately called upon his fellow KMI board members. A vote was taken and $5,000 was donated to help fulfill the needs of all the program’s listed children.
In subsequent years KMI began to incorporate the successful clothing event into their lengthy list of projects. In 2010, in conjunction with the Southlake Kohl’s location the two teamed to hold an “Around the Block” holiday event. Sponsors joining KMI and Kohl’s for this year’s event include Boston’s Gourmet Pizza, Buckner International and the Ryan Palmer Foundation. Together each has played a tremendous role in expanding the event to serve even more children. The first year “Around the Block” assisted 669 children, followed by 1,029 children the year after. Joe King, President and CEO of Kids Matter International announced, “In our third year we aim to help 1,400 kids which means we need to raise $140,000 to meet that goal.”
“We couldn’t hold this event without the wonderful support we receive,” King commented.
Thanks to Kohl’s generosity with their facility and the support of our sponsors KMI’s “Around the Block” program is able to ask for a $100 donation from someone or even $1,000 to support 10 children and all the money is usable for the kids.
“Kohl’s generosity extends well beyond just offering their store,” King adds, “Kohl’s steps up their offerings with financial support and additional deep discounts on everything in the store making the entire event go so much further.”
“I am very proud to be part of a company that takes giving back to heart,” said Robin Wilkins, Southlake Kohl’s Store Manager. “Kohl’s wants to support and touch all communities with Kohl’s Care for Kids.”
The Kohl’s Cares® Scholarship Program recognizes young volunteers between the ages of six-18 who have made a positive impact on their communities. Wilkins explains, “Young volunteers are recognized at local, regional and national levels.” To date, Kohl’s has recognized more than 17,000 kids and awarded more than $3.4 million in annual scholarships and prizes.
Kohl’s further shows their Corporate giving spirit with Kohl’s Associates in Action providing their employees the opportunity to volunteer their time and team spirit through participating in various youth-focused events, like “Around the Block”. Robin told us, “Volunteering allows Kohl’s Associates to give back to the community and is enhanced by Corporate grants given directly to the charity.”
In addition to Kohl’s the Buckner Foundation is another invaluable partner to KMI. Buckner International is a foundation that administers more than 100 million in charitable funds worldwide. The collaborative partnership with KMI helps provide shoes for each attending child at the annual shopping event in addition to assistance with various other KMI endeavors.
When PGA golfer and Westlake resident, Ryan Palmer first heard about the program from his friend and KMI chairman Coye Conner, he jumped at the chance to become a partner as well. A homegrown Texan, Palmer grew up in Amarillo and played college golf at the University of North Texas before transferring to Texas A&M. After graduation from Texas A&M in 2000 he then joined the professional golf circuit.
Through the Ryan Palmer Foundation, the three-time PGA Tour winner and his wife, Jennifer, lend their support by providing backpacks for each child at the spirited holiday event. In total, the foundation has given away more than 18,000 backpacks.
KMI and their supporters believe in the program and the fact that by providing new clothing, shoes and accessories to young children in need they are instilling personal confidence while letting each of them know that there are others outside their own families who care for their well-being.
It Takes a Village
The old adage, “It takes a village to raise a child” could not be more accurate when describing the logistics of running an event of this magnitude. Each year the event at Kohl’s would not be possible without a host of volunteers. “It takes at least 500 volunteers to help run things,” King said.
A sponsor since the beginning Boston’s, The Gourmet Pizza Restaurant and Sports Bar not only puts on an annual golf tournament where 100% of the proceeds go to help fund “Around the Block”- on the day of the actual shopping event, Boston’s also offers a number of volunteers from their work force.
Volunteers from Boston’s, Kohl’s, and throughout the community are put to good use by event co-chair Johanna Keene. An integral part of the volunteer network, she helps in staffing tents and logistically running the event. Volunteers are even needed to accompany each family member as they go shopping. “Johanna is the glue that holds everything together,” King said, “We couldn’t do it without her, both her talents and her dedication.”
Each family is given a scheduled shopping time and is matched with a volunteer. On the evening itself both families and volunteers anxiously await the opening of the department store as it marks the beginning of a fun and rewarding experience.
In addition to the shoes donated by Buckner, the backpacks from the Ryan Palmer Foundation, each family has $100 to spend on clothing in Kohl’s. The wide smiles of the children as they leave the stores with their large shopping bags stuffed to overflowing with shirts, pants, sweaters, and coats are all the payment any volunteer could ask for. “I enjoy watching the kid’s faces light up when they come in to shop,” said Wilkins. “Most of them never get that opportunity and they are treated like royalty that day. It’s a true rush and pleasure for myself and my associates to watch the kids shop.”
Children are chosen to participate by Kids Matter International working in conjunction with middle schools throughout Dallas, Denton, and Tarrant County but the majority of the children come from our local area of Northeast Tarrant County including Hurst-Euless-Bedford, Southlake, Grapevine, Colleyville, and surrounding cities. Although KMI works primarily with middle school age children, any child is eligible for the program regardless of age as long as the child is enrolled in school. Up to four children per family may participate and with the help of school guidance counselors the list is prioritized and families notified. “None of the families we serve measure up to the poverty level and we try not to duplicate the services of another organization,” King said. “We want to spread our resources out to help as many as possible.”
Since the inception of Kids Matter International, the mission has remained the same, to help kids in crisis locally and around the globe. What began in 2006 with six local gentlemen trying to make a difference from their own homes has become a locally staffed organization with office space that is creating a difference on both a local and global scale.
Globally KMI focuses on bringing hope and healing to orphaned, abandoned or disadvantaged children in a variety of ways. In 2008 they answered a need in Roaton, Honduras working with Buckner International, to establish a transitional home that provides at risk young women with safe and secure surroundings. The girls are provided with medical care, counseling, education, and job training to help them on their road to recovery bringing them hope and happiness.
Not losing focus on children closer to home “Around the Block” is held each November just in time for the holidays. This year it will be held on Tuesday, November 13th beginning at 6:00 pm and more volunteers are always welcome. Visit Kids Matter International for more information.