ST. GEORGE — In the last year, over 1,000 low-income, school-aged children have been provided with necessities by the Assistance League of Southern Utah, a chapter of 119 other programs across the United States. It is an all-volunteer, nonprofit organization.

In this file photo, 6-year-old Skylar Carter holds a new shirt that she picked out at the Assistance League of Southern Utah Operation School Bell shopping event, Hurricane, Utah, Oct. 9, 2018 | Photo by Mikayla Shoup, St. George News

The Southern Utah chapter has over 70 members whose contributions total more than 10,500 volunteer hours annually, Assistance League President Andrea Augenstein told St. George News.

Recently, however, those involved have become concerned about the chapter’s future. Membership declines every year.

“We need people who can help out and be boots on the ground,” Augenstein said. “They need to be willing to find friends and associates and round them up to help.”

Augenstein said the majority of current members are retired school teachers. Their passion for helping students has persisted into advanced age, Augenstein said. The next generation of members need to realize it is “their turn,” she said.

While she is grateful to her whole team, she said she hopes to attract some new blood.

Liz Rose, a member since May 2023, said she joined because she believes some of the most vulnerable in society are children.

“We all need a purpose,” Rose added.

New-age proficiency in technology would advance the club, Augenstein said.

“Most of the jobs we do require some kind of new skill,” she said, specifically referencing the need for a new grant writer, vice president and president-elect.

Volunteers allow the Assistance League to continue their mission of helping the community. This includes providing essential items to low-income children, supplying art materials to schools and promoting literacy.

In this file photo, Aaron, Aydin and Kapri Lyman shop for new coats at the Assistance League of Southern Utah’s Operation School Bell event, St. George, Utah, Sept. 23, 2019 | Photo by Mikayla Shoup, St. George News

But above all else, Operation School Bell is their flagship program. It provides essential items such as new clothing, shoes and dental supplies to children in need.

“We give these students their self-esteem back,” Augenstein said. “They walk into our shopping events in beat-up shoes and third-generation hand-me-downs and walk out with brand new clothes they picked out.”

In addition to Operation School Bell, the Assistance League promotes literacy and emotional development among local children through an initiative called the Page Turners program.

Volunteers then visit local schools and read to children in Title 1 schools. Then, each child is able to take their very own book home, too.

“For many of these kids enrolled in Title One schools, this is the first book their family owns,” Augenstein said.

Volunteer Saimi Bergmann joined in May 2023, pointing toward its promotion of literacy as a driving factor behind her pursuit of membership. Bergmann said that books have the power to inspire and make one care, adding a quote by Margaret Fuller: “Today a reader, tomorrow a leader.”

“A child’s world should not be limited to what they can see in their home, their yard or their town,” Bergman said.

The Page Turners program, aimed at third graders, has seen great success.

“Third grade is critical because children transition from learning to read to reading to learn,” Augenstein said.

Another favorite is Action! Week, which focuses on providing art supplies to schools.

“Delivering these supplies supports cognitive and emotional development through creative expression,” Augenstein said.

Augenstein also credited Walmart in Hurricane as a major supporter.

“They are amazing and so willing to help us,” Augenstein said.

While material goods are always needed, the organization makes an impact on wider-reaching issues as well.

In this file photo, Arya and Samuel Jackson get ready to purchase their new clothes at Operation School Bell, St. George, Utah, Sept. 23, 2019 | Photo by Mikayla Shoup, St. George News

“The homeless liaison for Washington County Schools relies on us,” Augenstein said. “We help anywhere from 700 to 1,000 school kids a year, which saves his budget so he can take care of the most extreme last-minute needs.”

If the Assistance League were to dissolve, there would be no one ready to take their place, Augenstein said.

Fundraising remains a critical component of the organization’s operation. They are the 120th chapter and are in a small area compared to other assistance leagues.

“Los Angeles has 700 members and wealthy people who will donate $120,000 in one city,” Augenstein said. “That’s our whole budget — $120,000.”

A recent winter fundraiser in 2023 raised nearly $45,000.

“The budget is tight. It’s always like this,” Augenstein said. “But we manage to make enough each year.”

Augenstein says she loves what she does but notes that if her replacement were to come around sooner rather than later, she would have the opportunity to mentor them.

“We need a people person to take over — someone who can listen, comprehend and make assessments,” Augenstein said. “Everything runs through the president.”

In this file photo, Tanycia Johnson and her sons, Trace, 5, and Tytan, 8, shop at the Assistance League’s Operation School Bell event, St. George, Utah, Sept. 23, 2019 | Photo by Mikayla Shoup, St. George News

Those new to the area may find themselves looking for camaraderie or a way to get involved. That was the case for Augenstein back in 2017.

“My new then-next-door neighbor was a member,” Augenstein said. “A few months later, she invited me to a meeting, and it was just what I needed— something to get out of myself.”

Despite the challenges, Augenstein says she is “more than happy to put in every single hour” and that “every kid deserves to be treated kindly.”

Amy Mitchell, the Washington County School District’s Title I program director, sees the organization’s impact firsthand.

“These Assistance League volunteers make good things happen all around our community,” Mitchell said. “I am especially grateful for their positive influence on the students of Washington County.”

Those interested in showing financial support for the Assistance League can donate via check, Zelle and PayPal.

The organization also welcomes non-members to participate in their activities, and a monthly luncheon is held at the Holiday Inn to discuss business.

Officially recognized as the 120th chapter of the National Assistance League in 2013, the organization holds a 501(c)(3) nonprofit status under the National Assistance League’s group exemption.

Membership dues are $60 a year, with half the money staying with the local chapter and half going to the national organization.

Those interested in becoming a volunteer should visit this website.

Ed. note: When making charitable contributions it is advisable to consult with professionals for tax advice and investment risks.

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