Cool Schools: Anne's Kits for Kids helps under-served students succeed

Cool Schools: Anne’s Kits for Kids helps under-served students succeed

ELKHART, Ind. –A program inspired by a Concord West Side Elementary School teacher’s family is now helping to provide under-served students in Elkhart with the building blocks to succeed.

It’s called Anne’s Kits for Kids. It was a passion project that stemmed out of a memory of Anne Longenbaugh.

Anne’s birthday is now marked in a calendar that her brother and father create every year.

“I think I like the January picture a lot,” said Grant Longenbaugh, Anne’s brother, as he flipped through the 2019 calendar.

He and his father take the photos for the calendar every year.

“My favorite kind of photo to take is one when I’m out with my dad and having a good time,” said Grant.

Anne was an aspiring teacher, a recent graduate and only 22 years old when she passed away in 2005.

That’s when Grant and Anne’s mom, Chris, decided to turn a life lost into lives changed.

“She with a lot of her colleagues wanted to do something a little bit more to honor Anne’s memory,” said Grant.

That’s when she came up with the idea for Anne’s Kits for Kids.

“This is a really exciting program,” said Debbie Ridenour, chair of Anne’s Kits for Kids. “All of us that teach in it are extremely passionate about it.”

Ridenour worked alongside Chris to create the program after Anne’s death.

But one year late, Chris passed away after a long battle with cancer, leaving the idea of Anne’s Kits to her fellow teachers.

“She just had such a desire to see families wanting to work with their children at home as well,” said Ridenour. 

She’s been one of many teachers who have worked to keep the program and Chris’ legacy alive over the last decade by making families a part of student’s learning. 

“We can’t do everything here at West Side as a teacher and parents can’t do everything at home. We need to work together,” said Ridenour.

And that’s the goal of Anne’s Kits for Kids.

Teachers buy supplies all year to fill up the kits. The kits are filled with books, educational games, and learning exercises for families to use at home.

Dozens of families are chosen each year to attend three educational sessions to learn how to use the tools inside the kits.

 “We’re teaching parents fun activities, engaging activities that they can do at home with their children,” said Ridenour. “Parents are feeling more capable of how to help their children. They understand what teachers are expecting of their student, what they should be doing “

And she says over the last decade, she’s seen the program get kids excited to learn.

"Students are more excited about the learning. They come back to school and tell us that they played Candy Land with their mom or their dad. You can see growth in their colors, their numbers, and their shapes," said Ridenour.

And as the school continues the program, Grant says its humbling to see teachers find passion for his mom’s passion.

“It’s really inspiring to see how mom’s legacy has been carried through and nurtured and amplified by all of her colleagues and people that she never had the honor of meeting before,” he said. 

And he and his father now have their own way to keep Chris and Anne’s memories alive. 

“We started taking photos together after my mom passed away,” said Grant. “We would go on little photo trips either just down the road to the park or across the country and just spend time out in nature hanging out with each other.”

Now those pictures fill the yearly calendars that serve as a fundraiser to fill the kits that were inspired by their own family.

“It’s kind of our little way of using what little skills we have to help the teachers get their job done and get the funds that they need to help the kids out,” said Grant.

Since being developed at West Side, the program has spread to all elementary schools in the district to help young learners across Elkhart build better futures.  

For more information on Anne’s Kits for Kids, or to buy a calendar or make a donation, click here. 

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