The Power of a Pencil

Remember the excitement of that new backpack, new box of crayons or freshly sharpened pencils – especially on the first day of school? Over 90,000 St Louis area kids share that joy because of the efforts of KidSmart. Founded in 2002, KidSmart’s mission is to empower children in need to succeed in school by providing free essential tools for learning.

According to KidSmart CEO, Jennifer Miller, the lack of the simplest items can be a huge obstacle for learning, but it is an obstacle we can chip away at. Through their efforts, $85 million in materials has been distributed to enough underprivileged children to fill Busch Stadium – twice! However, the impact of these items goes far beyond simple paper and pens. A report by The Kids in Need foundation indicates that students with access to quality school supplies have a 70% increase in self-esteem. This confidence increases the opportunity for success – in school as well as in all aspects of life.

Clearly KidSmart’s busiest time is late summer with ‘Back to School’ season. One of their multiple programs for the season is Push for Pencils/Push for Change, which places boxes in area locations collecting school supplies. It is the largest school supply drive in the State of Missouri. When the campaign is over, they sort, package and distribute donations for the start of the school year. But what happens when the paper is used and pencils wear out? KidSmart’s work continues each and every week as they provide supplies through their KidSmart on the Go! Program. This program operates throughout the year. The organization goes directly to their students to refresh supplies in their classrooms. They also host drive-thru distribution events for teachers to come and collect additional school supplies.

How does KidSmart, with its small staff of six, do all this? Obviously through donations – by corporations, foundations and individuals. A gift of $25 is leveraged into $125 worth of materials with the buying power of KidSmart, and sorting and packaging is lessened. Once supplies are received, their network of volunteers go to work. It’s a huge effort, but the reward is even greater.

While traditional supplies are the most visible, KidSmart also provides books, art supplies and Physical Education equipment for children in over 160 area schools. Additional events and campaigns are held through the year and there is a large focus on summer school. Summer school has become more critical since COVID as students continue to catch up. While many of the underprivileged children served by KidSmart were provided laptops or tablets during that time, they lacked connectivity. Around one-third of these kids don’t have a permanent home. The efforts of KidSmart and their involvement with teachers and children is chipping away at the ground that was lost.

Ms. Miller met YouthBridge CEO, Barbara Carswell, a few years ago when a major donor of KidSmart realized the shared interests and goals of the two organizations. He made the introduction and a strong partnership was formed. In Miller’s words, “Barbara has become not only a partner, but a mentor and friend.” YouthBridge is proud to be associated with KidSmart in their efforts.


YouthBridge connects donors with community needs. If you are interested in learning more about how we can make charitable giving easier for you, please contact Michele Mosley.