Phoenix nonprofit helps kids dress for success
Brenda Sperduti, CEO and executive director of Assistance League of Phoenix, likes to say the 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization “makes happy happen.” Case in point, Operation School Bell, the headliner of the nonprofit’s six philanthropic programs supporting children and families in the Valley.
“Operation School Bell provides support for children in K-8 so they can attend school ready to learn,” Sperduti says. “We provide basic clothing—uniforms, tops, bottoms, socks, shoes, underwear, sweatshirts and belts—enough to last the full week. We also provide a personal hygiene kit and, as a bonus beyond the essentials, each child gets to choose a brand-new book that matches their grade level.”
In partnership with more than 85 Title 1 schools in 14 districts in Phoenix and Glendale, Assistance League of Phoenix dressed about 8,300 children last fiscal year. In March, Operation School Bell will celebrate its 30th anniversary, providing clothing to its 100,000th child.
“The one-on-one interaction our volunteers have with the children, that’s the sweet spot,” Sperduti says. “We’re not just a uniform program. Every child experiences a person and a community that cares about them.”
Assistance League of Phoenix focuses on making the process fun and exciting. “When the kids visit our building in Sunnyslope, we call it ‘going shopping,’” she continues, adding that children are paired up with a volunteer who helps them get measured and picks out clothing in their school colors, and choose a book.
“It’s transformational,” Sperduti says. “Many of them have always been dressed in hand-me-downs, and this is their first time looking in the mirror wearing something new.”
More than three years ago, the organization converted an old city bus into a mobile dressing station for schools that couldn’t arrange transportation to Sunnyslope. Four days a week during the school year, the bus serves 50 kids a day with four private dressing rooms and a shoe station.
“We’re the only Assistance League in the country that takes its show on the road,” Sperduti says proudly.
Behind the scenes, a nearly 100 percent volunteer workforce makes it all happen. About 200 members contributed 32,000 hours in volunteer time last year, while community volunteers added another 4,000.
Funding for Assistance League of Phoenix comes from several sources. A year after the organization was founded in 1960, the Thrift Boutique was launched as the main source of income. Today’s shop represents about 30 percent of the budget. Volunteers accept donations from the community, and sort, clean, test and repair everything before putting it out on the store floor.
The second major source of funds is the yearly fundraiser. The 46th annual Celebration of Caring will be held on Sat., April 1 at the Omni Scottsdale Resort and Spa at Montelucia, featuring a cocktail reception, dinner, and silent and live auctions.
In addition to grants and individual donations, Assistance League of Phoenix also receives funding, event sponsorships and volunteer support from a long list of corporate partners. National Bank of Arizona is the newest to join organizations such as Cox Communications, Desert Schools Federal Credit Union, Legacy Foundation, Sundt Corp., Virginia Piper Trust, Helios, Phoenix Thunderbirds, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona, Executive Council Charities, and Fry’s.
After nearly six decades, Assistance League of Phoenix continues to touch the hearts of kids and volunteers alike.
“When we ask the kids how they’re going to feel when they go back to school with new clothes, across the board, they say ‘happy,’” says Sperduti. “The same thing happens with the volunteers, when they see the difference they’ve made with a child.”
Story by Jake Poinier
Photography by Mark Lipczynski