The Kristen Amerson Youth Foundation received assistance from volunteers from Alabama Power to pack mental health bookbags that were distributed throughout Tuscaloosa beginning last week.

The foundation made its first drop-off at the Benjamin Barnes YMCA in West Tuscaloosa on June 22. JacQuan Winters, the executive director of the foundation, and volunteers from Alabama Power assisted with unloading the bookbags.

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(Brittany Marshall|Tuscaloosa Thread)
(Brittany Marshall|Tuscaloosa Thread)

250 bookbags, filled with crayons, distress toys, positive affirmations and journals with writing prompts were distributed to children enrolled in the YMCA's summer camp.

Winters said the idea of providing the bookbags came in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic began and the foundation had limitations to provide resources to students in the Tuscaloosa City Schools system.

Winters said he hopes the bookbags will provide youth with resources that are sometimes scarce during the summer months while students are away from school.

"During the summer, we know that resources are scarce and kids still have mental health issues during the summer so we wanted to give them an outlet to really have a release from the issues that they're having while out of school," Winters said.

(Brittany Marshall|Tuscaloosa Thread)
(Brittany Marshall|Tuscaloosa Thread)

Lakeda Smith, the executive director of the Benjamin Barnes YMCA, said she feels the bookbags will allow the students in summer programs to become aware of their mental health.

"With the COVID crisis, school shootings and other things that are going on, it is so important for the children to be aware of their mental health. This partnership will provide them with materials to read and research and allow us to have open conversations with them," Smith said.

Marcus Ramsey, an engineer at Alabama Power and one of the assisting volunteers, said partnerships with community organizations are vital to the community.

"We partnered with the Kristen Anderson Youth Foundation because we felt that we needed to. Mental health is sometimes neglected, even as children, so we feel like it was very important for us to be able to assist them," Ramsey said.

Winters also gave 50 bookbags to LIFT Alabama and plans to distribute 700 more through the summer to other students and organizations throughout the county with hopes of making an impact on 1,000 young lives.

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