Group prepares for school drive

Advocate staff photo by Darlene Denstorff -- Caelyn McAllister, 14, center; Jasmine Stewart, 14, left; and Volunteer Ascension Executive Director Sherry Denig sort school uniforms June 26 in the Pecan Grove Primary School cafeteria as part of Volunteer Ascension's school uniform program.
Advocate staff photo by Darlene Denstorff -- Caelyn McAllister, 14, center; Jasmine Stewart, 14, left; and Volunteer Ascension Executive Director Sherry Denig sort school uniforms June 26 in the Pecan Grove Primary School cafeteria as part of Volunteer Ascension's school uniform program.

Summer is the busy season in the volunteer world that surrounds Sherry Denig.

This time of year, Denig, the executive director of Volunteer Ascension, spends her days shuffling between several volunteer projects that involve everything from pet adoptions to helping with a program for disabled children and adults.

Denig manages more than 60 youth volunteers as part of her agency’s ConnecTeens program, and is organizing adult and youth volunteers who collect, transport and sort used and new school uniforms.

“I run from one program to another this time of year, but I love it,” Denig said.

On Saturday, Denig will be running again as volunteers collect paper, pencils and other school supplies in front of Wal-Mart stores in Prairieville, Gonzales and Donaldsonville and at Office Depot in Gonzales as part of the agency’s School Tools Drive.

Residents are encouraged to pick up school supplies while shopping from 8 a.m. to noon and drop them in the Volunteer Ascension boxes on their way out of the stores, she said. Monetary donations also will be accepted.

The School Tools Drive is celebrating 15 years of continued success in providing school supplies to children in need, she said.

Since the program’s inception, volunteers have collected and sorted the supplies and teachers placed orders for the supplies their children need. Orders are packed and prepared for pickup by school volunteers.

Through collaborated efforts with the Ascension Parish School Board and with the help of volunteers, the agency identifies and provides assistance to children entering kindergarten through eighth grade. With the help of Ascension Parish teachers, counselors and administrators, the program has evolved into a highly efficient, “well-oiled machine,” she said.

“The incredible amount of teamwork required for this task does not go unnoticed,” Denig said. “Each year, we are amazed at the number of volunteers that come and do whatever it takes to ensure that the last truck or SUV drives away with exactly what is needed for each Ascension Parish child to begin their school year.”

The School Tools Drive is supplemented through a partnership with WBRZ’s Stuff the Bus, which is set for 5 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday at Office Depot in Gonzales.

Dozens of volunteers will be working Wednesday to unload the supplies collected at the Stuff the Bus campaign.

“It takes a lot of people to make all of this work,” she said.

In addition to collecting school supplies, volunteers have been busy collecting and sorting new and used school uniforms.

Each week, volunteers pick up donated items and bring them to Pecan Grove Primary School cafeteria, where uniforms are sorted by size and color.

Youth volunteers with Volunteer Ascension’s ConnecTeens program volunteer at both summer programs.

Caelyn McAllister, 14, has spent several Wednesday mornings pulling tags and unwrapping and moving piles of uniform shirts, skirts, pants, dresses and shorts.

“It’s fun and I know I’m helping someone,” she said.

McAllister’s brother and grandmother also help out with the program.

Youths also are signed up to help at local libraries, pet adoption days hosted by Companion Animal Rescue of Ascension, River Region Art Association, Ascension Council on Aging, Azalea Estates of Gonzales, Community Opportunities — The Arc of East Ascension, Fellowship Center, St. Elizabeth Hospital, Salvation Army and Special Tuesdays.

“It’s a busy, busy summer,” Denig said.

Denig praised both youths and adults for stepping up when she puts out a call for volunteers.

“This truly is a giving community,” she said.

For local volunteer opportunities, go to facebook.com/VolunteerAscension.

To sign up online to volunteer, go to http://goo.gl/x7NrG.