First, the most obvious warmth is the physical one in which young middle schoolers in need are protected from the winter chill by their new wrap.
Second, much can be said for the warmth of self-esteem, a comfort that rises in the face of a brand new fleece coat that adorns the small frame of a middle school student who is slowly coming to terms with life and love, and sometimes with cold reality.
Third, none should ever take for granted the warmth in the heart of donors who have purchased new jackets for youngsters in need; to the donor, these faces will go unseen, their names will be unknown and their voices will remain unheard.
Yet, the plight of these youngsters is real, and especially at such an impressionable age.
It is why Junior Auxiliary and counselors at three area halls of learning — Cleveland Middle School, Ocoee Middle School and Lake Forest Middle School — work with great discretion, and with tender hearts, to identify students who need a new zip-up fleece for the coming cold season.
The annual drive will continue through the end of November.
Here’s the premise behind “Jackets for Juniors,” that which sets it apart from similar campaigns. It is best explained by Miranda Whittington, a CMS counselor. In a previous interview with our own staff writer Delaney Walker, Whittington pointed to the unspoken needs of this fragile age group.
“There are a lot of projects in Cleveland, but a lot of them stop at a certain age or they are only for elementary schools,” the counselor cited. “They think because they are in middle school then they don’t need these programs anymore, but they still get cold. They still need jackets.”
In “Jackets for Juniors,” school counselors hold individual conferences with students who they suspect might have a need. The conversations are not in a public setting and they are strictly confidential.
Most students are upfront about their needs when given the opportunity to speak in private with a faculty member they know and trust.
Says Whittington, it’s an eye-opening experience and it’s also a learning one for the students.
“I get to be the one who gets to give them the jackets and see the look on their face, and establish that relationship,” she explained. “I’ve had them write thank-you notes after they receive a jacket. I try to teach them when they receive a gift from someone, they need to write a thank-you note.”
Anna Hutt, a Junior Auxiliary member who coordinates the civic club’s program, points out jackets are normally provided through the club, corporate sponsorships and individual donations. In order to jump-start this year’s community program, she sought out specific individuals and businesses for help. They responded — people like Chad and Joy Eslinger, Guy and Melissa Barat, Al and Laura Shumaker, and Beverly Johnson.
Their gifts, along with several business donations, sustained the Jackets program when it was most in need.
For those wishing to make donations, new fleece coats may be dropped off at Deli Boys on Keith Street. Hutt specified zip-up fleeces because these are the most popular among youngsters this age. One example is the North Face jackets that provide warmth and can be used throughout the year.
Hutt isn’t promoting one business over another, but she pointed out the types of jackets the Junior Auxiliary program can best use are available at retailers like Ross, TJ Maxx, Old Navy and Burlington Coat Factory.
Junior Auxiliary members are correct in this assessment: middle-school students get cold too, and sometimes their blue-collar parents can’t afford a new winter coat.
Middle school counselors are on the mark as well: This is a fragile age group, one that straddles a fence separating success from failure, and one whose lean relies upon opportunity, support and a warm touch.
“Jackets for Juniors” delivers on all three points.