From AppKIDS beneficiary to volunteer – Jean Pruitt knows both sides

2016 will be Jean Pruitt’s third year as a mentor/shopper for local children in need through Appalachian State University’s AppKIDS program. “If you can help, you need to help. There are children in this community, more than people realize, that need help,” said Pruitt, a 10-year employee of Appalachian.

Pruitt knows, because she and her younger sister were local children helped by AppKIDS in the 1980s.

With divorced parents and her mother working a low-paying job, “we grew up very poor,” she said. They lived in the Blowing Rock district of Watauga County Schools.

From third grade to eighth grade, Pruitt, now 39, remembers looking forward to the day each year an Appalachian employee would take her shopping for underwear and shoes – “basic necessities,” she remembered – and that’s what today’s volunteers do, too.

AppKIDS, a Staff Senate service project, stands for “Appalachian Kindness in Donations and Service.” It makes sure that every November, 90 Watauga County children in grades K-12 are taken shopping for items they need for the winter months.

At Appalachian, a culture of community service

Now in its 37th year, AppKIDS is part of Appalachian’s culture of community service. Faculty and staff, using donated funds, volunteer their time to mentor and guide the children as they help them purchase items such as coats, boots and pants.

Children for the program are selected by guidance counselors and social workers at all nine of the Watauga County schools based on family need. Each year, 10 students are selected from each school. This year’s fundraising goal is $16,000, which provides $175 per child.

Shopping day begins when volunteer drivers pick up the children at their schools and bring them to Appalachian’s Plemmons Student Union, where they meet their mentors and eat breakfast together. Mentors are given an information sheet detailing each child’s most imperative clothing needs, and they take their assigned child to shop at participating businesses. Later, everyone returns to campus for lunch with Appalachian’s Chancellor Sheri N. Everts. After an ice cream treat, the children are dropped back off at school or home.

“My main goal for the kids I volunteer with now is to make sure they get everything on their list,” Pruitt said. “The first year I did it, the little girl showed up in pajama pants and flip-flops, and it broke my heart. She didn’t have a coat. The first thing we did, we bought shoes, socks and a coat. I made sure the little girl had everything on her list.

“I can remember growing up in Blowing Rock school district, it was a lot of the wealthier kids, and we were tormented as kids. People don’t understand, and I want to make sure a child has everything they need,” Pruitt said.

Pruitt is employed as a utility worker in Holmes Convocation Center, taking care of maintenance for the building’s arena, concourse track and exterior. A parent of two children, she said she volunteers because “I know how much it helped me – the excitement of getting new clothes, getting to experience something like that. I know how they feel. I want it to be great, you know?”

Related stories