Around the Park Again by Sharon Lee Tegler
July 21, 2022
Stopping for a moment to enjoy a cool drink and conversation on the shady porch of the Bean Rush Cafe in Annapolis, Walk the Walk Foundation’s Nicole Dolan would shortly be on the move again, heading to a backpack packing event in the community of Davidsonville.
A year ago, Dolan and her husband Jeff began working with founders Kim and David Mitchell to take over the leadership of Walk the Walk Foundation. As military retirees, the couple had adequate time and resources to devote to the organization. Thus, Nicole would succeed Kim as its executive director.
Founded in 2005 by the Mitchells, the foundation partners with area businesses, organizations and non-profits to serve Anne Arundel County youngsters through three outreach programs – its original Gifts for Children program, its Backpacks for Kids program and its Diapers for Babies program.
Being director is a role Nicole says she’s still growing into. She’s forever introducing herself and the non-profit Walk the Walk Foundation to as many local residents and community groups as possible. Interestingly, the school backpack program was the first one she and Jeff ran after taking over from the Mitchells.
The foundation’s longest-running program, Gifts to Children, is still going strong having provided gits for the children of 300 families last Christmas. But, from its earliest years, WTWF has been active in July and August promoting donations of backpacks for school children and recruiting volunteers to pack them.
Severna Park residents may recall seeing the Walk the Walk van parked on the Park Plaza parking lot for the occasional day of on-the-spot backpack packing.
The foundation no longer has the large van. It was traded for a smaller, more practical one when the organization moved from Nogales Road in Millersville to a new Crownsville location with plenty space to receive and store supplies.
As can be seen (from the opening photo), Dolan had one of the bright blue backpacks with her for the Davidsonville packing event – the first one of 2022. She explained how the school backpack program works.
“We partner with the Department of Social Services and a few other partners to figure out where the need is.” Dolan said. “Then, using financial donations from our supporters, we purchase backpack items in bulk at a discount. We next bring the items to a specific location, like a church, where supporters can donate $30 and pack a backpack for a child. While we have some online donations, most come from these hands-on events”
In filling backpacks, WTWF follows guidelines on the standard list of school supplies provided by Anne Arundel County Public Schools. Not every backpack is exactly the same but there are generally 24 items – things like composition notebooks, crayons, pens, dry erase markers, dry erase sleeves, water bottles, Ziplock bags, and more.
School backpack events tend to be enjoyable, but the Dolans find every bit of their involvement with the foundation interesting. Nicole and Jeff moved to Annapolis after serving in the Army and were first attracted to Walk the Walk programs as volunteers through Bay Area Community Church. They became more and more involved with WTWF just as the Mitchell’s were deciding the time was right to retire. “Born to serve,” as Nicole says, the couple was perfectly suited to take over.
Their most complicated task was taking over the year-round Diapers for Babies program which supports “emergency baby pantries” operated by 10 assistance networks including Crofton Cares, ACAN and NCEON as well as the Judy Centers in Maryland public schools.
Functioning as a partner with the National Diaper Bank Network gives Walk the Walk Foundation access to their resources and the opportunity to buy diapers at a very discounted cost – 16 cents per diaper, any size.
“That’s a screaming bargain as the average cost, depending on where you buy them, is 40 cents per diaper,” Dolan said. “By having that purchasing power, we’re able to use donations from our supporters to buy those diapers in quantity and store them. We also have partners that periodically do diaper drives for us which also replenishes our supply.”
WTWF volunteers repackage the diapers into groups of 25, an example of which Dolan also had with her. Each package is marked clearly with the size and directions stating that the package cannot be resold.
ACAN, NCEON and the other networks have reported that diaper need is “huge” in the communities they serve with many families unable to afford them. Reusable cloth diapers are not an option for families on assistance that lack access to washers or dryers. Health department regulations require laundromats to prohibit the washing of diapers for hygienic reasons.
Currently, the Dolans are reviving a tradition – the Walk the Walk Foundation “Walk” – but in a sensational way. The walk was originally held in Waugh Chapel but discontinued during the pandemic. This year, WTWF is inviting volunteers of all ages to walk the walk with them during the 2022 Bay Bridge Walk on Sunday, November 13th. Because the organization is now a Bay Bridge Walk charity partner with an ability to fundraise, WTWF volunteers who sign up will have their registration fees waived. (More about this later.)
For information on any of the Walk the Walk Foundation programs or events visit Walk the Walk Foundation | Annapolis Maryland (wtwf.org).
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