Bright Futures celebrates 10yrs caring for thousands of Beaufort County students

Published 5:34 pm Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Food, beds, clothing and hygiene products are basic necessities that some children in Beaufort County lack. One organization has spent almost a decade meeting those needs in an effort to bring hope and optimism to those children and families so they may have a brighter future ahead of them. 

Bright Futures is a nonprofit organization in Beaufort County, under the Washington-Beaufort County Chamber of Commerce, whose mission is to meet basic needs of students in Beaufort County Schools. It collaborates with other organizations and businesses in the area to meet those needs in about 24 hours. 

Chamber President Catherine Glover explained that the nonprofit takes care of local children’s needs, because if their basic needs are met they can better focus in school, stay in school and are more likely to pursue either employment or higher education in Beaufort County after high school graduation. 

“One of the Chambers’ initiatives is workforce development. We know our future workforce is in Beaufort County Schools so if  we can support the students and schools, we have a better chance of those students staying in school and becoming productive citizens. We need great employees for our employers and we know that they are in Beaufort County Schools,” Glover shared. 

According to data from NC Child, a nonprofit child advocacy organization, 10,834 children live in Beaufort County and of that population, 23% are under age six. They report 49.2% of children in Beaufort County lived in poor or low-income homes in 2021. This is a 1.7% decrease from 2016 to 2020 when 50.9% of children lived in either poor or low-income homes. Also in 2021, 19.9% of children lived in households that faced food insecurity. Two years prior, almost a quarter of children lived in households with food insecurity. 

Bright Futures was initially founded in Joplin, Missouri with assistance from Nutrien who has a plant there. Nutrien wanted to bring Bright Futures to Beaufort County, and there was overwhelming support for the idea; however, at that time, the school district did not have enough funding to support the organization, Robin McKeithan, assistant director of the chamber, shared.

Knowing the great impact Bright Futures could have on students’ lives and possible economic impact on Beaufort County, McKeithan and Glover established a 501c3 foundation within the Chamber that Bright Futures could operate under. 

“What we think what’s so good about Bright Futures is people know who they are helping,” McKeithan said. “If we post a need, and it might be for a ten-year-old boy who needs something – I think people feel a connection.”  

McKeithan is pleasantly surprised that Bright Futures has grown to help a multitude of Beaufort County children and families. 

“It’s a good thing. It’s a great thing, but we had no idea,” McKeithan said. 

Last year, Bright Futures helped more than 1,000 students with food insecurity and provided access to school food pantries so that 2,352 students could have food when they were hungry. 

Bright Futures and their community partners supplied students or families with beds, bedding and/or appliances, and 11 homeless families were assisted. Twenty-four families received assistance with medical crises and more than 1,000 hygiene items donated and distributed, according to the Washington-Beaufort County Chamber of Commerce Foundation.  

“I think part of it is because people like Laurel (Paramore) and Ashley Padgett, people within the school system really embraced it and I think it’s just grown,” she continued. 

Laurel Paramore is a recently retired mental health coordinator for Beaufort County Schools who says the district has “great needs” that many people in the county may not realize, but teachers and school staff encounter those needs daily.

Before Bright Futures was established in the county, teachers reached into their own pockets to make sure students had school supplies, shoes or hygiene items. Because of Bright Futures, more people know about the school system’s needs and want to help meet them. 

When a school faculty member, administrator and/or an employee sees a student whom Bright Futures could help, they fill out a form listing the child’s name, grade level, number of family members, their need, reasons why the need exists and any prior attempts to meet this need. That form is handed to a liaison between the school and Bright Futures; however, the student’s identity is concealed from Bright Futures. 

McKeithan then takes to Facebook and Instagram posting the need. A quick scroll on Bright Future’s Facebook profile shows needs for a hot water heater, twin sized bed and mattress, a $50 donation for a student to participate in band this school year, a washer and dryer and $250 for bed bug extermination. 

Paramore shared that Bright Futures has witnessed many “miracles” watching students and their families needs be met. These are instances where “the right person” sees a social media post from Bright Futures listing a need and meets it so students can have “a greater chance of success.” 

Paramore was at one time skeptical that social media posts would be seen and quickly responded to with action. 

The first social media post Bright Futures published was about a family in Pantego who needed a washer and dryer. Before the post was written, Paramore went to their home to speak to a mother whose child experienced hygiene issues. She found a family who washed their clothes in a sink and hung them up to dry throughout the interior of their home. With the family’s permission, the social media post was published and “immediately” their need was met, Paramore shared. 

Seeing a community continuously willing to help local children and families has “restored” Paramore’s “faith in the ability of a community to wrap around a need,” she said. 

Ashley Padgett, who recently retired from Beaufort County Schools, worked as a leader of Project AWARE which is a grant funded program designed to provide students with mental health resources, support and services. She shared that in Bright Futures’ beginning, she, Paramore, Glover, McKeithan and school counselors would volunteer to deliver donated items like mattresses, washers and dryers to families. 

She described working with Bright Futures as “fun” and “such a joy” especially when making deliveries and seeing families’ reactions. 

Padgett reiterated that if a student’s basic needs are met, then they have a greater chance of success in the classroom. “If something’s going on like you don’t have that bed, you don’t have those shoes that fit…your hot water heater broke and you’re having to take a cold shower…The more we can take those away, the better our kids are going to perform.”

A second component of Bright Futures is their site councils. These are groups whose membership of local businesses, organizations and churches chose to meet larger needs of a school. This includes building food pantries, clothing closets and hygiene pantries students can utilize during the day. 

Looking at the next ten years, McKeithan said she hopes Bright Futures continues to grow especially with the site councils. “The more churches and businesses and individuals and other nonprofits sitting around the table talking about the longer term needs of the schools the better,” she said. Whether making monetary donations, bringing in volunteers or even baking biscuits or cookies for school staff members, there is a way churches, nonprofits and businesses can contribute to a site council. 

For anyone interested in getting involved with Bright Futures, they can contact Robin McKeithan at 252-946-9168 or rmckeithan@wbcchamber.com.