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Devils partner with Pass it Along to bring backpacks to Newark Students

by Gordy Stillman / New Jersey Devils
Holding her new backpack, a JFK student shakes hands with NJ Devil. While kids were already smiling as they designed name tags for their backpacks, visits from NJ was a special treat. Photo by Courtney Gfroerer

It started with a company-wide backpack stuffing event. Nearly every Prudential Center and New Jersey Devils employee, from executive to intern, spent two hours on September 2 filling Devils-branded backpacks with everything a student would need to kick off the new school year.

With the help of Pass it Along, a non-profit that aims to help teenagers develop confidence and resilience, the 500 backpacks, filled with 2,700 pencils, 1,800 spiral notebooks, 1,200 glue sticks and other school essentials, were ready for delivery to two Newark public schools, the John F. Kennedy School and South 17th Street Elementary.

At JFK, where students 10 to 21 years old face disabilities, including autism and medical conditions, Devils employees broke into small groups to deliver backpacks and help students make their own nametags using markers and stickers provided. Given that all of the backpacks were one of two colors, red and gray, with the familiar Devils logo front and center, the nametags helped kids avoid any confusion.

“Anything that anyone does for this population, for these children, it is always welcoming,” JFK Principal Glenda Johnson-Green said as Devils employees interacted with the students.

PHOTOS: Click Here for more photos from the backpack stuffing and JFK delivery.

Team mascot NJ Devil also stopped by each classroom for a special visit. In a class of four autistic students, where everyone put extra care in following the teacher’s lead, “NJ” not only put smiles on the children’s faces, but engaged in a quick dance-off with one of the students. In another classroom, students ran up to hug the loveable devil as he dished out high fives.

A few days the Devils delivered more than 300 backpacks to every student at South 17th Street, Like at JFK, employees helped students design and decorate name tags that would make each backpack unique. In one classroom, a student opened his new notecards, scrawled “I love you” on one, and handed it to the Devils employee working with him.

“NJ” was again his usual playful self, stealing a student’s chair briefly and hanging a bucket from one of his horns. Students smiled, laughed, hugged and applauded as he goofed around, unable to be anything but the center of attention.

The backpack delivery was part of Prudential Center and the Devils’ 82 Hours program, which encourages employees to use personal and company time to serve 82 hours of community service each year.

“The impact goes beyond readying these kids for the first day of school, it’s readying them for the year,” said Kelly Bonventre, Director of Programs and Grant Development for Pass it Along.

PHOTOS: Click Here for phots from the South 17th Street Elementary delivery.

Bonventre told the story of an eighth grade student who discovered a love of art after receiving a backpack four years ago, using pencils provided to sketch. The student is now working on a portfolio with the hope of attending Newark Arts High School next year.

The backpack delivery was only the start of the relationship with the Devils and Prudential Center. The schools will set goals in areas needing improvement, such as reading or math, and if students meet the targets, the Devils will provide rewards, from street hockey at the schools or even a trip to Prudential Center to see the Devils play.

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