Heading into a new school year is always an exciting, yet anxious, time. You may remember standing in front of a mirror, determined to find the “perfect” outfit to start the year. Imagine that same closet filled with not only clothes you wore last year, but the same outfits your siblings wore years before. At a time when finding your unique identity is hard enough, no student should have the added pressure to simply find something comfortable and new to wear.

This is where National Assistance League’s Operation School Bell comes in. I spoke with Judy Travis, Assistance League Norman public relations officer, about their program’s mission to transform the lives of children and families through community programs, and how you can help.

When was Operation School Bell founded and what are some details of your organization?

Operation School Bell® was founded by National Assistance League® in Southern California in the 1940s. Our local OSB was founded in 1978. The origins started with Norman Public Schools’ coat closet, located in the original Washington Elementary.

Can you provide a brief description of Operation School Bell?

Operation School Bell is a personal shopper experience in our “store”. We have a handicap-accessible building where we provide new coats, shirts, jeans, undergarments, grooming supplies and a gift card to purchase a new pair of shoes. Each student also chooses a new reading book based on their reading level.

Clothing is purchased locally as much as possible to keep our dollars local, keeping current styles in mind. 100% of donations to Operation School Bell benefit the students.

How has Operation School Bell grown over the years?

Operation School Bell grew from the coat closet to the basement of the Professional Development Center and eventually to our own building on Wall Street. Our growth has gone from the original 70 students served in 1978 to 1,900 in 2017-18. Our goal is to add 500 students for the 2018-19 school year. Norman and Little Axe public schools are our areas of service. We are currently one of only two Operation School Bells serving school children in the state of Oklahoma.

Do you partner with any organizations in the community?

Norman Public Schools have been a partner from day one. Over the past 40 years, NPS have provided transportation and 15 years of facilities space.

The following community partners have provided volunteer hours by being a personal shopper as well as donating clothing items: Prairie Oil and Gas, Hitachi, Sitel, Norman Police Department, DeLong Family Chiropratic, Colleen Milhan, Dorinda Harvey, Brenda Imy, Wendy Williams and Melissa Kahn.

In addition, Republic Bank and Trust, First United Bank, MidFirst Bank, Oklahoma State Bank and Bob and Lee Johnston have given financial support.

What can people in the community do to help your organization and how can they contribute?

Be a personal shopper, join Assistance League Norman or make a donation and help Operation School Bell continue to grow. Community members can participate in OSB by donating gently used children’s clothing, work a shift shopping with students, or make a personal donation toward the purchase of new clothing. Assistance League depends on its volunteer members to make it successful; we always welcome new members!

Personal shoppers do more than help select clothing, they give one-on-one time to the students. During that time, they help build self-esteem and show the students that they are special and worthy of nice, new clothes. Additionally, volunteer personal shoppers receive joy from working with the students, knowing that they are making a difference in the life of a child in our community.