Their mission is two-fold.
First, help out children and families in need.
Second, showcase some of the positive things happening in the poverty-stricken but tight-knit community of North Bellport.
For Rodney Terry, a co-president of the People Making a Difference community group, the personal recognition he’s gotten from time to time has felt pretty good, too.
Like when his daughter’s classmates see him and mention aloud that he’s the guy who gives out free backpacks.
“We didn’t do anything to have ourselves looking all glamorous; it was just for the kids mostly,” he said. “But when kids see you like that, the smile you get on your face is just priceless.”
The people behind People Making a Difference — now seven in all — began their community work during the summer of 2013, when the founders organized a back-to-school, pot luck-style dinner on Michigan Avenue for area children.
The founding members then spent the next several months meeting, planning and gathering backpacks, markers, notebooks and calculators for a much bigger party for August 2014.
“We probably gave out 500 backpacks filled with supplies,” Terry said of last year’s event. “We had a line a half block long.”
“It’s for the kids but it’s also for the parents,” he continued. “Maybe if they can save some money on school supplies they can buy a couple more shirts or pairs of pants for school. We’re trying to ease the financial pressure on them too.”
For the group members, who all live in North Bellport, they spent about $10,000 of their own money to throw last year’s block party, which featured a DJ, bounce castles, face-painting, cotton candy and ice cream. Children even entered to win prizes such as free sneakers or haircuts.
“We get a few donations here and there, but we do this out of our own pockets,” Terry said.
People Making a Difference, which is seeking not-for-profit status, is throwing its 2015 back-to-school event on Saturday, Aug. 29 — this time at Robert Rowley Park at 500 Patchogue Avenue.
Rodney’s wife, Kim Terry, said one of her more memorable moments with the group came not during last year’s block party but two weeks later. In the meantime, she had been trying to track down a child who had won free sneakers, since someone had forgotten to jot down an address on the little girl’s raffle ticket.
“For two weeks I was driving around,” Kim Terry said. “I put it out on Facebook, ‘Did anybody see this kid?’ She was maybe in pre-school. Then I’m coming down Brookhaven [Avenue] one day, I wasn’t even looking, and said that’s the kid!
“She was like, ‘I won sneakers!’”
Danielle Skelly, who’s not a group member but does serve on the South Country school board, said the People Making a Difference organization is hitting all the aspects of what makes a child a success in the classroom.
That goes beyond having a pen and notebook.
“Having a nice haircut or sneakers is really important to these kids,” Skelly said. “An eighth grader coming in and looking like a hot mess is not going to behave. But if they’re not feeling like they look out of place, that allows them to focus on school work.”
The event has also attracted older kids — those in their late teens or 20s, some of whom are taking college classes or have already graduated — to volunteer by handing out supplies and mentoring the children.
“Unfortunately, they see the negative role models all the time,” Skelly said. “Those are the people who are in their faces all day long.”
Rodney Terry said the group, which also distributed dinners to homeless people in the neighborhood this past Thanksgiving, isn’t just trying to change the perception of North Bellport to outsiders, but also to the young people who are growing up in the community.
“We got to let the kids know that there’s people out there who care about them,” he said.
“That’s the bottom line.”
Anyone looking to donate money, materials or services for the third annual back-to-school event should email the group through firstname.lastname@example.org.
Or, visit the People Making a Difference Facebook event page.
Photo: Last year’s block party in North Bellport organized by People Making a Difference. (Credit: Courtesy)
People Making a Difference. A Community Organization Members: Lakishia Tolar, Tabitha Brown, Kim Terry, Iranette Garrison, Rodney Terry, Wayne Bristol, Charlene Williams