UGA students take Clarke County schoolchildren out for an early Christmas.
Christmas came early this year for more than 700 children from the Clarke County School District.
On Dec. 2, the students were paired with two UGA student mentors through the Shop with a Bulldawg program that offers the young students a shopping spree at a local Wal-Mart. Each child was allotted $120, money raised by their mentors, to be spent on necessities and toys for their holiday season.
In only its seventh year, SWAB has seen exponential growth thanks to dedicated students like Executive Director Jillian Schmidt, a fourth-year finance major from Pittsburgh. Schmidt began volunteering with SWAB during her freshman year and fell in love with the philanthropy.
"I liked how SWAB was a small community, and there was a lot of room for growth," she said. The program started in 2009 with about 100 UGA students serving as mentors. This year, more than 1,900 UGA students signed up.
Schmidt and her team have worked tirelessly to manage event day. A shift system was implemented to structure the arrival, shopping and wrapping times of the students. This year, a fifth shift was added to accommodate the large number of mentors. "We didn't want to turn away any UGA students who wanted to help," Schmidt said.
The students arrived as early as 6 a.m. for the first shopping shift at Wal-Mart. Even with the early start, the kids were brimming with excitement. "I stayed up all night waiting for this!" said Quamari Franklin, a second-grader from Chase Street Elementary. His purchases included shirts, hats, sunglasses and snacks. His favorite find of the day: a blue and white remote-controlled car. "Seeing his excitement is great," said one of his mentors, Shannon Hochschild, a journalism student from Dahlonega. "He saw the car and got so excited asking if he could buy it."
Hochschild and Lallie Maddox, an advertising and psychology major from Perry, have mentored together for three years. "It's our Christmas tradition," Maddox said.
SWAB partners with Scott Emard, family engagement specialist with the school district, to identify participants.
"For many of our families, holiday gifts are often practical and meet the needs of the child, but not necessarily the wants," he said. "SWAB and the amazing UGA student volunteers, along with the school administrators, work selflessly to make this amazing event day a reality."
For four years, Schmidt has been driven by the direct impact this program has on kids of Clarke County. She took a moment to reflect on her last event day, which she said was bittersweet. "It's been a lot of work on top of classes, but this is such a special organization," she said. "SWAB is a good way for UGA students like myself to see the challenges the community faces. It allows you to see the direct influence you're having on these kids and our community."
— Kellyn Amodeo, Marketing & Communications