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For T Sneed, helping kids get a strong start to the school year provided major motivation.

This year, Sneed and their co-workers at Exact Sciences held a drive that collected 239 pounds of school supplies for WayForward’s Back to School Program, which helped fill backpacks that went out to hundreds of students this year. Sneed, Administrator of Laboratory Service Training at Exact Sciences in Madison, is also a new member of WayForward’s Leadership Council, which brings together community members to help support and advocate for the organization’s mission.

WayForward is a dynamic nonprofit organization which mobilizes the Dane County community to address barriers to accessing healthy food among other natural supports,” Sneed says. “WayForward’s incredible team offers pleasant experiences to both volunteers looking to transform lives and program recipients seeking resources to meet their immediate needs.”

Gina Patel, President & CEO of Patel Kwan Consultancy, has a strong and personal motivation for supporting WayForward Resources.

Patel’s company donated and packed 35 kindergarten backpacks for this year’s Back to School Program. Members of her team also volunteered to organize school supplies and get them ready for distribution, joined by her own kindergartner, Hari (in photo at left with Patel Kwan intern Grace Liew).

“Way Forward provides much-needed resources to families in our area,” says Patel (at left in photo at top).

“I am originally from the UK, but as a child I received free school lunches, uniform, etc. As a family we received about 40 GBP per week in ‘benefits’ to use for food, heat, transport, and anything else needed. That is approximately what it ended up costing for these backpacks including supplies. Having this extra cost burden can mean the difference between families going without heat or food and being able to send their kids to school with backpacks ready for the school year. There is a lot of drive in our community to support one another, so thank you, WayForward for facilitating this.”



For one kindergartner, there was never a question which backpack he was going to choose. 

From the moment he stepped through the door at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church, he spotted the backpack featuring the hedgehog made famous by a video game and yelled out his name with joy. His excitement grew as he examined the backpack’s features close up. “Mom! There’s a lunch box. That’s so cool.”

His decision was one of hundreds made last week by parents and kids confronted with rows of brand new backpacks stocked with supplies. This year’s Back to School program provided backpacks and supplies to 629 students from 4K to college. The collective effort to help students have what they need to be ready to learn is fueled by financial support and donations from individuals, churches and businesses in our community.

Students and their parents walked in with curiosity and, in some cases, uncertainty about which backpack to choose. “Oh no, this is hard,” said more than one parent. They walked out with smiles and hope for the year ahead.

Some parents deployed a quick phone call or Facetime to determine what might be the best option. One posed the all-important question to her child over the phone: “Super Mario or Minecraft?”

The answer was Super Mario, and the mom who picked up that backpack along with three more for her other children marveled at the room full of choices. “We participated in the program the last two years and it has just been truly wonderful for our family,” she said. “It makes our kids so excited to start their school year.”

WayForward volunteer Lynn Metz has helped collect, organize and distribute backpacks and school supplies to hundreds of students over the last decade.

As the lead volunteer for the Back to School program, Metz spends a lot of her summer thinking about the first day of school and what it means for kids to have what they need when they walk into their classrooms.

“There’s more need out there in our small community than people realize,” Metz says. “This brings to light the fact that kids need support to start off on the right foot.”

The massive organizational effort comes together with financial support and donations from individuals, churches and businesses. “The community is amazing,” Metz says. “We have a company that’s packing first grade backpacks, we have another company that’s packing kindergarten backpacks. I love the involvement.”

For Metz, the highlight is the day students arrive to pick out their backpacks. “No one that comes in has any idea how much work was involved in the program. Everything is organized by grade, and the backpacks are just sitting there ready to go,” she says. “I love seeing that.”

To support this year’s Back to School Program, visit our seasonal support page.


“I just can’t decide!” said a first grader when confronted with an overwhelming array of backpack choices – from sparkles to Spider-man – during school supply pickup at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church for our annual Back to School program.  A helpful volunteer asked, “Which one do you like least?” But that was not a strategy that helped – she liked them all. Even though their contents were identical, she peeked inside several backpacks anyway before narrowing down to two options. Her final selection came after posing for a quick photo on her mom’s phone while wearing each one, looking over her shoulder. This year’s program served 569 students, from 4K to college. We are grateful for the way our community comes together to make sure kids have what they need to be ready to learn. This effort would not happen without financial support and donations from individuals, churches and businesses.

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