March 20, 2019 12:00 AM
The Neighborhood Birdges Hoover Team visits AEA headquarters in Montgomery, Ala.
Teachers and support staff see it every day in Alabama schools. In fact, countless educators lose sleep worrying over the needs of their students. Often, they will spend their own money to provide the basics for their students such as clothing, food, and supplies.
David Bannister is a Hoover resident who is heavily involved in his community. His brother, Rick, started an online kindness platform in their hometown in Ohio. Seeing his brother’s success, David decided to bring the kindness campaign to Alabama.
“I think people around the state would think of Hoover and associate that with resources,” said David. “And for the most part, that is true. But the diversity continues to change, and age and population continue to change.”
David’s brother started this platform in Westerville, Ohio, after he served on the local school board. He learned that while the overall community was relatively well-resourced, there were still many local students and families living with poverty.
“In our community, every time we ask for help people come rushing forward,” said Rick Bannister, the Ohio-native and creator of Neighborhood Bridges. “I thought, why can’t we take advantage of our new tools – technology and social media – to run a daily campaign for kindness? That’s Neighborhood Bridges.”
So, with Hoover’s similarities to Westerville, the two brothers partnered to bring Neighborhood Bridges to David’s new hometown of Hoover.
David has connected Neighborhood Bridges with an organization called Hoover Helps, who is now facilitating the ongoing kindness campaign. Hoover Helps has been meeting some of the needs in local schools by providing weekend backpacks of supplies -- so it was a natural fit.
Through the platform, school counselors in Hoover City Schools can post student needs, and anyone who is signed-up to receive notifications will receive those needs in a weekly e-mail. Before they are posted, however, a third-party reviewer at Hoover Helps ensures all relevant information is included. The needs are then posted to social media and the website.
Subscribers see the needs with instructions, but no identifying information. The subscriber who wants to help then clicks: “I can help.” Meeting the needs in Hoover usually involves delivering the requested item to a local fire station. Fire department personnel then deliver it to the school.
“With Neighborhood Bridges, we’ve taken away that the donor knows it’s going to a certain school, so we’re free to put specifics about the need without putting the stigma on that child,” said Catherine Bruno, who is a school counselor in Hoover City Schools. “I can get the coat and give it straight to the student and nobody has to know that he or she needed a coat.”
Donna Bishop, founder of Hoover Helps, says the only thing people have complained about is that needs are being met before they can get to them, which is a good problem. She describes it as a year-round Angel Tree for basic needs.
Since their launch in February, 36 acts of kindness were posted and filled in just one month, benefitting about 150 people. They currently have over 780 subscribers and a 100% “fill rate” for posted needs.
Bannister says the community response in Hoover has been overwhelming, and they think the model can apply to other parts of Alabama. In fact, there are over 42 Alabama communities which meet the model for platform success.
Any educator interested in bringing Neighborhood Bridges to their area can contact Donna Bishop at firstname.lastname@example.org. Hoover Helps has offered their assistance to school systems and community organizations that might like to duplicate the model in their community.
This article was originally published in the March 18, 2019 edition of the Alabama School Journal, a publication of the Alabama Education Association.