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Bright Futures help make local children’ futures brighter

Refrigerators, mattresses, clothes, eyeglasses and deodorantdon’t usually come to mind when peoplethinkabout their local Chamber of Commerce.However, the Washington-Beaufort County chapter has taken a community-minded approach toward advancing their mission to create an environment where businesses can prosper. What’s good for the community is also good for business. That’s where Bright Futures comes in.The program traces its roots to Joplin, Missouri, a southwest Missouri town that sits near the borderofArkansas and Oklahoma, about 40 miles south of where President Harry Truman was born. The area has similar demographics to BeaufortCountyand a group traveled east in 2014 to talk to the local Chamber about its questtomakesure area school children and their families had the necessities to live.“Catherine (Glover), our executive director and I were blown away by the concept and knew we needed to start something here in Beaufort County after hearing them speak,” the Chamber’s Assistant Director Robin McKeithan said. “Kids can’t learn if they are hungry or don’t have decentclothing and shoes. If we can meet their basic needs, they are more
likely to stay in school, graduate and join the workforce. Area businesses recognize that and have been very supportive.”Beaufort County Schools Student Services Director Ashley Padgett is the liaisonbetween the Chamber and theschool system. Teachers are usually the first to spot a struggling child. When they find out the cause, they inform Padgett, who works with McKeithan to fill the need.“We can help with just about anything,” Padgett said. “Food, clothes, beds, shoes, coats, blankets, household furnishings—you name it. Robin posts the basic need on Facebook and Instagram and someone usually responds quickly. We see Bright Futures miracleshappen every day.”The program relies on donations from the business community and other groups. Partnershipswith other nonprofit organizations such asEagle’s Wings and local businessessuch asMyEyeDr., Precision Eye Care and HibbettSportshave yielded free eyeglassesand exams, food and shoes for area families.“You don’t realize what a difference new glasses and shoes that aren’t held together with ducttape makes until you see it,” Padgett said. “We posted that a very young child needed size 2shoes and got them the next day. We are blessed to live in such a generous community.”McKeithan said community support has allowed Bright Futures to set up food and hygiene closets,as well as clothes closets at area schools, where students can drop by a room and pick out what they need in a discreet fashion. Belk donated $6,000 so counselorscould go on a shopping spree to pick out brand new clothes, underwear and socks for kids at their schools. Banks and churches have worked together on blanket and coat drives. Realtors have coordinated furniture donations and Ruth’s House has helped with domestic violence cases.“We see Bright Futures as the umbrella organization that coordinates collections and distributionsfrom all these other groups,” McKeithan said. “Often,when we get a furniture donation, we have a family on our list who needs it andAshley and I,along with others,go deliver it the same day or the next. We’re grateful that everyone works very well together.”McKeithan said it takes about $30,000 a year to fund Bright Futures. Money comes from grants, donations and a few people have even added their IRA required minimum distribution to the cause. They are always on the lookout for new businesses to get involved as well.“Professionally, the more students we can help stay in school, the better it is for our future workforce,” McKeithansaid. “Personally, it feels really good to help a child with the basics and make a difference in hisor her life.”If interested in donating to Bright Futures, checks should be written to Washington-Beaufort County Chamber of Commerce Foundation with Bright Futures in the memo line. Contact Robin McKeithan at 252-946-9168 for partnering with a school or working with Bright Futures.