Helpful advice on how to set up a Mass Child program in your own local

Westfield Education Association President Lori Hovey and Secretary Laurie Furkey hold up winter coats purchased with a special Mass Child warm clothes grant.
Westfield Education Association President Lori Hovey and Secretary Laurie Furkey hold up winter coats purchased with a special Mass Child warm clothes grant.
The MTA established The Massachusetts Child, a charitable corporation, to help MTA educators help students in need. Since 1996, the Mass Child has been providing grants to preK-12 locals for such things as school supplies, educational field trips, medical needs and clothing. Every MTA preK-12 local qualifies for a grant of $1,000 or more, depending on the size of the association, each school year.

Surprisingly, many MTA locals do not take advantage of the financial assistance offered by the Mass Child. In an effort to shed some light on the grant program, we sought the advice of two organized and insightful local Mass Child coordinators, Stephanie Vasilos and Pauline Boyajian of the Winthrop Teachers Association.

Here is some helpful advice from Vasilos and Boyajian on how to set up a Mass Child program in your own local:

  1. Ask your building representatives for help identifying students in need. At executive board meetings, Vasilos and Boyajian ask building reps to put out the word in their respective schools about the funds available to students. They then follow up with an email to their entire membership asking for the names of students in short-term crisis.
  2. Create a list and then check it twice. Vasilos says it’s important to check with others to confirm that the students identified are truly in need. School adjustment counselors, guidance counselors, the principal and building secretaries are all good people to consult.
  3. Connect with the family. Ask an educator who has a relationship with the family to reach out to the family before purchasing any items. Because the Mass Child requires locals to buy clothing or footwear for students, it is important to find out what items are needed and be sure to get specifics – exact sizes, styles and color preferences.
  4. Enlist the help of a good shopper. Boyajian not only enjoys shopping, she’s really good at it! Before she heads out to the stores, she searches online for coupons and good sales. Last year, she bought a brand-name, high-quality full-length winter coat that retails at $400 for around $80. Her secret? She tracks items, waits until they are discounted and then buys.
  5. Tell the salesperson your story. Boyajian says she makes a point to tell store personnel that she is a teacher buying items for financially strapped students and families as part of a grant program. While it doesn’t guarantee a reduction every time, Boyajian says some sales clerks will tack on an additional discount.
  6. Buy items at stores with liberal return policies. Make sure you get a gift receipt so the family will have an opportunity to make exchanges for things that do not fit correctly.
  7. Set aside an extra $1,000 at the beginning of the school year. That way you’ll have the money on hand to reimburse the shopper right away. Soon after, you’ll receive reimbursement from the Mass Child (usually within four to six weeks).
  8. Keep good records. You’ll need copies of receipts to get reimbursed by the Mass Child.
  9. Ask a lot of questions. Call on the MTA with any questions about reimbursable items and services or anything else related to the grant program.

Happy shopping and please do take advantage of the grant money available from The Massachusetts Child.