Tyler, who is an eighth grader at OTS, was recognized for his work on the Backpack Buddies program – a service-oriented initiative he created in 2015 that has resulted in more than 400 backpacks being donated to ACCESS Inc., a homeless shelter for women and children in Akron. The inspiration for the Backpack Buddies program and desire to give back to the community can be traced back to a favorite back-to-school ritual and a memorable classroom discussion in Barb DiTirro’s classroom five years ago.
“Tyler’s favorite part of the back-to-school process has always been picking out a new backpack,” said Adam Snyder, Tyler’s father. “Each year, he was always excited to pick it out and proudly donned it as he started school. When Tyler was in second grade, a conversation about homelessness and people in need led to the realization (from the perspective of a 7-year-old child) that it was really sad that there were children who start their school year without a new book bag to be proud of.”
So during the spring of 2016, Tyler worked with Mrs. DiTirro, who was his second grade teacher at the time, to develop a community service project to collect new and gently used backpacks from his classmates and other OTS families. Tyler found a local business to donate boxes, which he colored and worked with the school to set up collection stations throughout the building. He created a Backpack Buddies logo that was applied to plastic bags so that students could carry their things home after donating their backpack at the end of the school year.
“My dad was on the board at ACCESS and we would talk about these kids not having a real home and how they were living,” Tyler said. “This always made me sad and got me thinking about how I could help.”
The first year was a huge success, with more than 100 new and gently used backpacks donated. Tyler cleaned the backpacks out and took them to the laundromat before being donated to ACCESS, where they were distributed to children at the shelter. Since then, the program has continued with more than 150 backpacks gifted during the summer of 2019, which represented an all-time high.
“Growing up in a stable and very fortunate environment, I never fully understood the thought of not knowing where my next meal was going to be from, or where I was going to sleep next,” Tyler said. “This program has really shown me that mistakes and unfortunate circumstances can be overcome.
“The difference between me and one of the kids at ACCESS is not much – they want to play and have fun just like any other kid in the world. Every person deserves a chance to succeed. A backpack might not be that chance, but it gives a temporary light for these kids that they wouldn’t have had otherwise.”
As one of the many adverse consequences of COVID-19, the program was suspended last spring. But Tyler and his family are pleased to share that the operation will resume this year thanks to a little creativity.
Instead of accepting donations at the school, the staff at ACCESS has developed a Backpack Buddies Wishlist on Amazon for families to purchase items in need, such as backpacks and headphones for distance learning. Additionally, Tyler is working to identify retail partners who would be willing to donate or deeply discount backpacks for the campaign to keep the effort moving forward.
“I think that it is important to keep the program running this year because it’s not like the kids stopped needing these things,” Tyler said. “I am very lucky to be in the situation I’m in, where I don’t have to worry about much. The least I can do, even with COVID in the back of our minds, is to help them. If anything, it’s harder for their families to find income and their own shelter, so at least I can put a smile on the kids’ faces when they get a new backpack.” Thank you, Tyler for your leadership and embodiment of our Core Values at Old Trail! For more about the 2020 AFP awards, please visit the organization's website at afpneo.org.