On Sunday, Aug. 18, my all-time favorite Boothbay event will take place for the eighth time. It is “Set for Success.”
It is an opportunity for more than 300 schoolkids to pick up school supplies for the coming year. The good news is there is no cost to the children or their parents. All they have to do is show up at the “Y.”
This year, there will be a free barbecue where the chief chef is none other than Keith Laser, the superintendent of schools.
They will get a new backpack, writing supplies and other goodies. Each teacher was asked what their students need on the first day, and that is what they will get. Also, there will be some free clothing, a chance to visit a dentist, an eye doctor and even free haircuts for the kids who might want one.
As usual, Sue Burge quarterbacks the event. It began eight years ago when she saw a need and got to work.
It is no secret that in this great community, where mega-yachts visit the harbor and BMWs clog the parking lots, that we have neighbors who are hard-pressed to send their kids off to school with a new backpack filled with all the supplies they need.
I still remember the first day of class – maybe it was in the third or fourth grade – when one of my classmates sat down at his desk and was embarrassed because he did not have a pencil and notebook, like the other kids. It was something I will never forget. Neither did he.
We all know of teachers – underpaid teachers – who dig into their own pockets to buy supplies for their students. This event tries to fill that gap.
“Set for Success,” an all-volunteer effort, is such a great idea, that some of our neighboring communities, Bath, Wiscasset, and Augusta have asked Sue to help them put similar programs in place.
Now, she is the last person to claim all the credit. She is quick to thank sponsors and volunteers who have donated time and money.
But, she says, there is one helper who deserves a special pat on the back. “I couldn’t have done it without help from 'Al,'” she said.
Yes, “Big Al.” That “Big Al.” You know him from his TV commercials advertising his variety store in Wiscasset.
Although he sometimes wears a gorilla suit on TV, he usually can be found wearing Carhart work pants, held up by wide measuring tape suspenders, over a T-shirt featuring the face of a large animal, topped by a rolled-up red beanie.“Come to Big Al’s, Route One, Wiscasset,” he growls in the commercials.
Wait a minute, “Big Al” himself is involved with schoolkids? You bet he is and here is why.
“I am involved because I care, and I can. Simple as that,” he said. Then he explained how he first noticed the program.
“It all began on year two. I saw Sue Burge standing at the store register with a shopping cart full of supplies, and I asked her what she was doing. She explained it was school supplies for the Boothbay area schoolchildren. I thought that is a phenomenal idea. I told Sue that next year if she let me know in advance, I might be able to help.” And she did.
When the next year rolled around, "Big Al" invited one of his (out of town) suppliers to come to town and bring his wife. To persuade them to come, he promised to put them up at a motel and send them on a whale watch.
When they arrived at his store, he introduced them to Sue, and she sat down with the guy’s wife while he placed his yearly order.
“After we got back together. I explained the Set for Success program and asked him if he would give us a special deal on some school supplies for the kids. Before he could answer, his wife piped up and said OK. She had been talking to Sue, and Sue sold her. They didn’t know it was pre-planned. And, now, they do it every year,” said Big Al.
“The Set for Success program treats every kid the same. Every kid is equal. And, they all have the same chance to learn,” he said.
In addition to school supplies, Big Al provides special packages, including clothing, for the teachers of children with special needs.
“I got no kids in that school,” said Big Al. “I do it because I can. I saw Sue Burge buy $200 worth of school supplies at the register and I knew I could help,” he said.
When you see them, give a special thank you to Sue Burge, “Big Al” and the many folks who help make Set for Success a success.