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Back To School Program

Applications are taken annually from July 1st to the day before school starts. Call Community Services at 860-628-3761 to make an appointment. To see if you are eligible,click here.

You will need the following items when you come in to apply:

• Proof of Residency
• Proof of Income for everyone in the household

“Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school." Albert Einstein

The Back To School Program provides qualified Southington students entering grades K-12 with new backpacks filled with school supplies and a $20.00 voucher to purchase additional needed supplies. A new school year means a new beginning and we believe that it is important that every Southington student should start off the year with new school supplies.

Community Services collects new items year round and we are always looking for donations of new items such as:


• Back packs
• Note books
• Zipped pencil bag
• Composition books
• Post its
• Folders
• Lined notebook paper
• Pens
• Pencils
• Rulers
• Highlighters
• Markers
• Pocket folders
• Protractor
• Erasers
• Colored pencils
• Index cards
• Trappers
• Dividers
• Book covers

The History of The Back To School Program

Community Services has partnered with Southington students to improve the program since 2001. With each new student/group, the program has made changes and improved, not only in the quality of the supplies, but in the overall costs of the program.

2012- Present Southington Smart Start Coordinator - Giving Back Girls

The Giving Back Girls came to Southington Community Services to see what they could do for their community. Our office was looking for students to continue working on Smart Start because Ashley Zerbe and Melissa Reid were off to college. The Giving Back Girls were excited to take over the program.

“Out of Erin Gibney’s love of baking and her desire to get involved with her community grew The Giving Back Girls, a group originally comprised of her twin sister Emily and their sixth grade friends from DePaolo and Kennedy Middle Schools, in Southington, CT. After baking more cakes then could be eaten, she asked if it would be possible to set up a bake sale, where she could sell her delicious creations and donate the proceeds to someone in need. With the help of Emily and their friends and classmates baking their own delicious creations, the first Giving Back Girls Bake Sale was held in April 2010 in conjunction with The Arc of Southington, a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit corporation whose mission is a leader in the community: educating, empowering, supporting and advocating for people with disabilities. They have since incorporated the Giving Back Girls into their fundraising operations. The bake sales are a continuing effort throughout the year and all proceeds raised are then distributed by The Arc of Southington to local charities.”

“As their community involvement grew, Janet Mellon from Southington Community Services saw great promise for The Giving Back Girls to take over the Southington Back To School Program, which is a program that provides 350-400 backpacks for Southington kids in need, returning to school each September. By taking over the Smart Start Program, with the mentorship of The Arc of Southington (www.arc ofsouthington.org), The Giving Back Girls now have the responsibility of collecting back to school supplies, warehousing those supplies, filling each back pack for a boy or girl in a certain grade and distributing the backpacks to each child prior to school starting. It’s a big responsibility. The smiles on the kid’s faces are the greatest reward.”

“From their efforts in the Back To School Program, their involvement with Southington Community Services and their community recognition awards from the Southington Town Council and The Southington Board of Education, numerous calls began to come in asking if the Giving Back Girls could help. They were more than happy to do so. They also received the Home Town Hero award from the United Way.” - Trisha Gibney

2008-2011 Southington Smart Start Coordinators - Ashley Zerbe and Melissa Reid

In 2008, Southington Community Services was looking for someone to take over the Back To School Program, as Rebecca Michlin was heading off to college. Towards the end of her eighth grade at DePaolo Middle School, Melissa Reid was told of the opportunity to take over the ownership of a volunteer program called Smart Start. Melissa was very excited about this opportunity and told her best friend, Ashley Zerbe, about the opportunity as well. Ashley was also in the end of her eighth grade at DePaolo Middle School. Together, Melissa and Ashley decided to take on the challenge of running the Smart Start Program.

Their first year running the Back To School Program, in 2008, was a daunting task. There was an immense amount of school supplies that had to be inventoried to make sure they had enough to fill approximately 200 back packs. They both put in a tremendous number of hours in the summer of 2008; counting, organizing, and buying supplies. They needed a place to pack the backpacks so Ashley’s family opened up their home to do so. Thanks to Rebecca Michlin already having the Smart Start Program in place and Melissa and Ashley’s hard work, their first year was a rousing success.

Each year from 2009 until 2011, the demand for the amount of backpacks needed increasingly grew. Melissa and Ashley took the initiative to get the Southington community involved. They had supply drives at Walmart and placed collection cans in many local businesses to obtain monetary donations. The community came through and they received a great deal of school supplies, as well as monetary donations.

Because the amount of backpacks needed increased each year, Ashley and Melissa needed to create a better system of organizing and packing the backpacks, and they did. They came up with a color-coding system by gender and grade which streamlined the packing in addition to handing them out. This system also made it easier when friends and family wanted to help fill the backpacks.

2011 was Ashley and Melissa’s last year of running the Back To School Program. At this time they had a very organized, smooth system in place. They were both going to college the following year so they needed someone to take over the program. With the help of Janet Mellon, The Giving Back Girls volunteered to take over the program. The Giving Back Girls shadowed Melissa and Ashley their final year to learn the system they had in place. In their final year of running the Smart Start Program, Melissa and Ashley handed out nearly 350 backpacks.

Just seeing the children’s faces light-up when they chose their backpacks was all the reward Melissa and Ashley ever needed for all the countless hours, hard work, and dedication they put in the Smart Start Program.

2001 – 2007 Southington Smart Start Coordinator – Rebecca Michlin

Rebecca Michlin came to Community Services in 2001. She was a sixth grade student at DePaolo Middle School and a member of the Girl Scouts of America, working towards her Silver Award. In order to achieve that rank, Rebecca needed to work on a service project. Her service project became assisting, creating, changing and working on the Southington Back To School Program.

“From the first day of Kindergarten, I have always loved school. I enjoy the challenge which it brings me. The summer before 6th grade, I realized how lucky I was to be able to acquire the tools necessary to receive a proper education. Yet, I was concerned about the children who may not be able to purchase those necessary supplies, so a back-to-school program for the less fortunate seemed to be a perfect project for me to make my own.”

“The first year, Smart Start seemed big for what is known as an affluent community. About 150 bags were packed and $3,750 worth of vouchers were distributed to qualified students. Giving out the bags and vouchers was so gratifying to me, to see the work which I put in being received with such relief by the parents, and joy by the kids. The look on the students’ faces showed they knew that they wouldn’t be singled out any more because of their lack of supplies. They knew they wouldn’t be different than all the other students.” – Rebecca Michlin