A Maricopa Wells Middle School teacher is hard at work to provide personal and school items to kids who need them most.
English and Language Arts teacher Nicole Blackwell, a former resident of Maricopa has been back in town teaching since November. In that time she started the Caring Closet, a collection of basic supplies – from notebooks and pencils to toothpaste and toothbrushes – in her classroom cupboards and cabinets for children who need them.
The Caring Closet is set up in a classroom to make it easier for children to ask for supplies in anonymity, according to Blackwell.
“Last year I was a long-term sub with the school district, and I just came across several students who needed basic items. I’m blessed in my family, so I kind of looked at them as everyday items that my kids just have. But these kids didn’t,” Blackwell said. “I was always raised if you see a need, you just fill it and fix it. And that’s what I did. I just wanted to help as many students as I can.”
Blackwell did not think she would have a career as a teacher when she went to college. Going to school to become a lawyer, she did not enjoy the work she was doing and switched to a more education-driven career path.
“I signed up to substitute teach, tried out a bunch of schools and when I went over to Wells, I loved it,” she said.
Hired on full-time with the middle school this year, Blackwell was committed to helping her students in any way she could and worked closely with Maricopa Wells Principal Thad Miller to establish the program. Blackwell said Miller and Councilmember Vincent Manfredi, who made donation with discretionary council funds, played integral roles in getting the project off the ground.
Principal Miller said that while he supported Blackwell during the process, the idea was all hers.
“I’ve been in education for 24 years and a common characteristic of educators is just caring for kids and wanting to help them in any way they can. She spearheaded this and I support her on it but all the credit goes to her,” Miller said. “Just that internal drive to help kids is what this all comes back to with Ms. Blackwell.”
A CARING NETWORK
With COVID-19 still an obstacle for the school district and low-income families, Blackwell has been making sure she can get school supplies to families who need them.
“Even if they are at home right now, every child should have a backpack that they can put their computer in and go to their grandma’s house or whatever,” Blackwell said. “Even if the curriculum is online, having paper and pencil to doodle, because they’re just sitting there, helps create a sense of normalcy in these times.”
With the Caring Closet still in its infancy, Blackwell looks to grow the cause district-wide in the next year. Sharing the same mission as the Copa Closet program run by Amber Liermann and Maricopa High, Blackwell sees the potential to have a network of faculty members at every school working together to meet student needs.
“Right now, we’re focused on the middle school age group, but I’ve had families contact me that have lost everything. I’d like to help them all out,” Blackwell said. “Even if each school ran it independently, if there was a way we could all communicate, maybe through a forum, where that way we could fill each other’s items that are needed for the classroom.
Nicole believes the best way for the community to donate to students in a coronavirus school year is through her fundraising project on Donorschoose.org. Next week, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will match donations to the project. Donors can write off contributions on their taxes. Blackwell said even a contribution as small as a $5 donation represents a pack of pens for someone who has none.
“Our principal and I wanted to create an area where the kids could come and get the items they needed,” Blackwell said. “I’d like to be able to help students year-round.”
Click this link to donate to Mrs. Blackwell’s Caring Closet project.
Vincent Manfredi is an owner of InMaricopa.com.