ARLINGTON, Wash.The Arlington Assembly, in partnership with Volunteers of America Western Washington (VOAWW), the Arlington School District, and Life Church 360, hosted a Back-to-School Celebration Saturday, August 14, that provided over 500 hundreds students school supplies going into the 2021 school year. 

In addition to the free school supplies, including backpacks and books, and connecting the community with literacy programs and health care resources, the Arlington event provided a safe place for families and community members to enjoy a day of free entertainment and food. 

“The main thing is getting families reconnected coming back out of COVID and getting supplies and resources in their hands,” Taunya Sanchez, Children’s Director for Arlington Assembly, told the Lynnwood Times.

arlington school supplies
(L-R) Caroline Neal, Site Director for the Arlington Community Resource Center, Ilsa Chigbrow, LIFEchurch360, Outreach Director, and Taunya Sanchez, Children’s Director for Arlington Assembly. Source: Lynnwood Times/Kienan Briscoe.

The Back-to-School celebration first began in 2012 when Sanchez was working as a volunteer at the youth church. After receiving several calls from the Arlington School District asking to help children find backpacks, she realized there was a much bigger picture that needed addressing. Sanchez sat down with local churches, Community Health Center, and other entities, to brainstorm how they could connect families with the resources.

Arlington Assembly took a 5-year break once the Arlington School District began providing school supplies to students. 

“The backpacks are the benefit, but it’s about reconnecting with the families, making sure they have medical insurance, answering questions, and just trying to stay in touch with families that need that special touch,” Sanchez said.

arlington assembly church
Arlington Assembly located at 201 N Stillaguamish Ave, Arlington. Source: Lynnwood Times/Kienan Briscoe.

Typically an event like this to provide 1,300 backpacks takes a year of planning. But with only six weeks to plan, the team was able to provide 536 backpacks to students. Sanchez, along with Caroline Neal, Site Director for the Arlington Community Resource Center, hope with more time to plan next year, they can expand the program to include haircuts, dental vans, and even mammograms. 

“Our ultimate goal, at the end of the day, is we just want our families to know that their community loves them. We support them and we’re here for them,” Sanchez told the Lynnwood Times. 

Working in partnership with the Arlington Assembly is Western Washington’s Volunteers of America branch, which began over one hundred years in Everett as an outpost of the Seattle-based affiliate. Initially it offered programs that centered on the Men’s Rehabilitation Center and thrift stores. By 1927, services expanded to meet the area’s growing needs, and the outpost became a separate branch of National Volunteers of America.

Between 1927 and 1978, the chapter grew to include several new programs including a Sunday school, youth programs, and Camp Volasuca, a summer camp in Sultan. In 1971 and 1974, through many local partnerships, new camp facilities were built including a large and small A-frame and bathhouse.

arlington school supplies
Back-to-School event in Arlington. Source: Lynnwood Times/Kienan Briscoe.

In 1985, the national office granted a charter to begin to operate as a Washington State nonprofit corporation.

“Our neighbors are in need, and we need to be their direct contact. Many people don’t even know who their neighbors are – that’s what we need to get back to,” Tina Mandela, Site Director with the Lake Stevens Community Resource Center, Volunteers of America, told the Lynnwood Times. 

Dan Spano, the lead pastor for the Arlington Assembly, believes this event’s return is a step in the right direction to provide the community with the resources and support. After this year’s success, he told the Lynnwood Times the church, “without a doubt,” would host events in future years. 

“We love the community aspect of it. Different churches are involved and different people of the community all coming together – it’s just awesome,” Pastor Spano told the Lynnwood Times. 

Volunteers of America, in collaboration with Lake Stevens School District, will host a similar Back-to-School event this Saturday, August 21 from 2-4 p.m. at VOA Lake Stevens Community Resource Center on 9015 Vernon Road. The event is drive-thru only and free or reduced meals will be offered thanks to the Hungry Hearts Foundation. Participants will need to provide a valid proof of their child’s enrollment within the Lake Stevens School District. 

Anyone interested in volunteering for Volunteers of America Western Washington can reach out to Tina Mandela at tmandela@voaww.org or call 425-405-2252.

Kienan Briscoe

Michael Kienan Briscoe (referred to by his middle name 'Kienan') has a BA in Journalism from Arizona State University and has worked as a freelancer for a variety of publications and organizations throughout New York City and Seattle. Journalism, to him, is one of the most important public tools to ensure an educated and aware society of events surrounding them. When he is not reporting he enjoys writing fiction and poetry, playing guitar, reading classic literature, and getting outdoors. He lives in Seattle with his two dogs.

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