School supplies may seem like a small thing, but for kids whose parents can’t afford them, they’re a big thing that directly impacts future success. Ten years ago, Susy and Jim Tilley began donating supplies from pencils to backpacks to schools in Burke County, where recent factory closures meant many households were suddenly without income. The Tilleys’ generosity evolved into a decade-long initiative with partners including Classroom Central, Communities in Schools, and WSOC-TV. Now known as 9 School Tools, the program reaches 22 counties and is the largest of its kind in the Carolinas.
Designed to foster not only a sense of social equality with their peers, 9 School Tools also seeks to narrow an achievement gap that can last a lifetime. “If we don’t help them and give them the tools they need in school, many of them will stop trying as early as the third grade,” said Tilley.