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‘Passion for giving back’ will benefit schoolkids

T-Mobile Shift Lead Shinah Santiago, Manager Alexander Brown, and Project Give Back founder Tyler Hannum display items for the backpacks. (PHOTO SUBMITTED)

WESTFIELD — When Westfield resident Tyler Hannum started college online at Devry University this year, he became inspired to give back to the community.

“I’ve been out of school for six years,” said Hannum, who is studying internet technology and cyber security at the university. “Technically, this is the first time I’m going to college.”

Hannum contacted his former vice principal at Paper Mill Elementary school, Susan Dargie, and asked how he could give back to the children in the community. Dargie, who is now the director of curriculum and instruction for Westfield Public Schools, suggested backpacks with school supplies in them, and Project Give Back was born.

Initially, Hannum set a goal of buying and filling 24 backpacks. He then doubled that number to 48, and decided to give them to Highland and Munger Hill elementary schools.

“I went back to college this year, so I wanted to give back to the community. I always have a passion for giving back and helping the community and helping people in general,” Hannum said, describing himself as a “people person.” He said he started Project Give Back to help parents who can’t afford a new backpack every year and to help with school supplies. Hannum said he is happy that he is able to help.

Reporting on the status of the project last week to Dargie and the two principals, he said he had filled 48 pencil cases each with three pencils, three mechanical pencils, two highlighters, two red pens, two black pens and a pink eraser. He said each backpack will have two folders and one notebook inside, along with a box of crayons, a box of colored pencils, and a box of markers. In addition, each backpack will have hand sanitizer, safety scissors and silly putty “to help distract the kiddos and help with anxiety,” Hannum said.

He also got his coworkers at T-Mobile in Westfield, where he is in telecommunications and cell phone sales, involved in the project. His manager Alexander Brown is donating backpacks.

Hannum said he plans to organize another Project Give Back next year, and double the number of backpacks from 48 to 96.

“Hopefully, I will continue to double them. My biggest goal is to choose one elementary school, and provide a whole student body with backpacks,” he said, adding that will probably be a few years down the road.

The principals whose schools will benefit this year are very thankful.

“While we try to provide as much as we can for each student, having a brand new set of materials for the first day of school gives children a sense of pride and feeling of preparedness. Tyler Hannum is so passionate about this project, and it is refreshing to see somebody selflessly ensure that the kids in our city are able to start the year out successfully,” said Munger Hill principal Salvatore Frieri.

“We are extremely grateful for Tyler’s commitment and effort with this project. His passion to help students in his community is unwavering. We feel fortunate that our students will be able to start the year off on a positive note, coming to school prepared for learning,” added Highland principal Jill Phelan.  

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