School's In at the I.H. Ruiz Branch

Thursday, August 11, 2011, marked the 10th anniversary of the Back to School Pep Rally at the Irene H. Ruiz Branch. And though it was a milestone for one of the Kansas City Public Library's biggest outreach-oriented events, according to Branch Manager Julie Robinson, the kids who came didn't care.

"What the kids care about is that this is for them -- and for them, it's a really big deal," Robinson says.

It's a big deal for the entire neighborhood. Each year before the start of school, a network of Westside community organizations and individuals circles around the I.H. Ruiz Branch. They put on a giant block party and give out scads of school supplies and books to students in grades pre-K through 12.

This year, the neighborhood schools that benefitted were Primitivo Garcia Elementary, Our Lady of Guadalupe School, Alta Vista Middle and Charter High Schools, and Cristo Rey High.

Around 2,000 people came out for the event, and 189 backpacks stuffed with grade-specific supplies were given to 72 families. Even more backpacks were given out in the ensuing days to families who had registered to receive them.

Each year, the school supplies and backpacks are donated by community members and organizations. This year, donors included Kramer Hardware, Manny's Restaurant, Boulevard Brewing Co., Carthage Marble, Walmart of Liberty, Mo., Perez Food Products and many others. Employees at the local U.S. Department of Homeland Security office even held a three-day drive to collect supplies for the event.

Kids from around the neighborhood, like fiver-year-old Daryl Stevenson, had a blast on air castles.

The Pep Rally was organized chiefly by the I.H. Ruiz Branch, the Westside Community Action Network (CAN) Center, and the Tony Aguirre Community Center. Kansas City Parks and Recreation provided the inflatables and hot dogs, and day laborers from the CAN Center helped with setup and teardown.

Twenty vendors from around Kansas City set up tables to give out information and prizes. Truman Medical Center, LINC, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Arvest Bank, El Dorado Architects, the American Red Cross, the Fire Dept., and Kansas City Public Television were among those represented.

Providing the manpower to help the event run smoothly were 28 Kansas City Public Library volunteers under the direction of Volunteer Coordinator Katie Taylor. In the days leading up to the event, Robinson organized other volunteers to stock backpacks with items from the KCMSD school-supply list. An additional two dozen volunteers from the neighborhood helped out, too, as they do year after year.

"My kids come to the Library all the time. One of the reasons I help out is that I'm giving back," said neighborhood volunteer Kenny Posey.

Several members of the Friends of the Library also rolled up their sleeves. In years past, the Friends have donated money to purchase the books that the Library gives to every child who attends. But this year, FOL board members Tom Platt and Susan Bailey and volunteers Eric Patterson, Carole and Dave Rowmer, and Don Biggs joined in the work -- and the fun.

Ruiz Branch staffers Emily Iorg and Richard DeWitt gave out books to every child.

Click the photo above for a slide show from the event. You can also view an online gallery of photos taken by the Kansas City Star

About the Author

Jason Harper is the Web Content Developer at the Kansas City Public Library. Connect online at / Twitter: @kclibrary.