“People want to help. All you have to do is ask,” Kelly Moulin says.
Moulin is the City Connects coordinator at Southbridge Academy in Southbridge, Mass., and she is exceptionally good at asking for help and inspiring people to say yes.
Southbridge Academy is a PBIS school — meaning the school provides Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports – that has 40 students in grades 6 to 12 who have individual educational plans or who need more support.
Because the school community is so small, and Moulin isn’t shy, one thing she does is ask students for their input. Moulin sends out student interest surveys to get guidance from the kids on a number of issues.
“The top three things that the students listed on their interest survey were music, sports, and art,” Moulin says. Unfortunately, Southbridge Academy doesn’t have a full-time art teacher so Moulin asked the part-time teacher to help. “We did an age-appropriate version of ‘Brushes and Beverages’. We call it a ‘Paint and Sip’ party, and we provide soda, popcorn, and chips and free canvases and paint and brushes for the kids.”
A couple of students also said they were interested in boxing. So Moulin Googled “boxing” and “Southbridge” and found Uptown Boxing Gym, a nonprofit organization in Southbridge run by Dave DiGregorio. Confident that he would want to help, Moulin called him, and the gym became a City Connects community partner, offering discounts to students and helping them out with equipment.
When Moulin asked students what careers they’re interested in, the number one answer was being a tattoo artist. Moulin tried but couldn’t find a tattoo artist who could speak at Southbridge Academy’s career week. But she did recruit a barber, a wedding DJ who has radio experience, and a Navy Recruiter.
“They wanted to learn about the military. And there was also a three-way tie between auto mechanic, doctor/nurse, and carpenter.”
Moulin is making calls to find people in these careers, so they can speak to her students, too.
Prom is coming up, so Moulin called the Men’s Wearhouse in Auburn, Mass., and asked for help. The result: two donated tuxedos for students at her school. Students will get the tuxes, shirts, ties, shoes, and cufflinks. Men’s Wearhouse will drop the tuxes off at school and pick them up after prom. And the same barber who is going to speak at career week is also offering two free haircuts to Moulin’s students.
“I also want to mention the First United Methodist Church in town,” Moulin says. “They serve a free meal every Friday that I’ve referred families to, and they have something called Carol’s Closet in the basement of their church, which is rooms of free clothes and personal items that families can pick up.
“There’s also the Southbridge Lions Club – I don’t want to leave out anyone who has helped me – I reached out to them, and they gave me $500, so my principal and I are thinking of doing a mini backpack program to send kids home with food.”
When Moulin learned that a neighboring police department donated abandoned bikes to families, she called and got a donation for a student. Then she called the Southbridge Police Department and asked them about donating the abandoned bikes they collect. There’s a waiting period, to give people a chance to collect their lost bikes, but Moulin will no doubt call back after that.
“I like to talk a lot, which works to my benefit,” Moulin said. “A lot of the day I’m on the phone. I’m explaining my position. I’m explaining the school.”
When she calls up a fishing shop and asks them to donate a free rod and reel for a student, they do, of course.
Moulin’s many conversations are compelling examples of what drives City Connects: asking students and families what their needs are, and then connecting students and families them to the people, organizations, and communities that are able to help.
It’s a straightforward strategy that has a powerful impact on students, and coordinators like Moulin make this work look easy.
“Again, most people really do want to help. You just have to be willing to reach out to them.”