When you think about the best remedy to attendance problems at school, you might not think the answer comes in the form of a warm load of folded laundry. But for students at Francis C. Hammond Middle School, a member of United Way of the National Capital Area’s Community School program, it might just hold the key to keeping students in class.
When the bell rings for students in at risk communities, it isn’t just the academics at stake, it’s their attendance. For Hammond and many schools in low income districts across the United States absenteeism is almost always present. For years, schools have been grappling with why students were skipping classes until they discovered that absenteeism and students had a few recurring correlations, one of which was access to clean laundry.
When we talk about identity in middle school, how we look and appear to others is at the center of how we feel about ourselves. For many students undergoing education in impoverished conditions, developing a positive self-image can be a daunting task.
However, the inability of students to come to school with clean clothes is a reality faced by those at Francis C. Hammond Middle School and many in the DC Area. Whether their households don’t have the time to do laundry or the ability to pay for things like detergent and the cost of the wash, families across the National Capital Area struggle to clean their clothes. And with most public schools in the nation’s capital requiring students to wear uniforms, cleanliness is a core component to “fitting in.” Though it may seem small, this roadblock to a positive self-image comes at a pivotal time for students as they develop habits on the road to academic achievement.
The Loads of Love program, hosted in partnership with the Washington Redskins Charitable Foundation, is tasked with the initiative of installing laundry units and services to at risk communities in Maryland, D.C and Virginia. Stocked with volunteers and plenty of supplies, families in need of laundry services can drop bags of clothes off on their way to work and pick them up when they come home for no cost.
“It almost seems like something that’s small from the outside looking in,” shares Redskins Running Back Kapri Bibbs when asked about the impact clean laundry can make on a student’s academic experience. “But kids come around you know, ‘oh he’s dirty, he don’t got this, he don’t got that…’ you’re feeling like an outcast when you realize you’re the kid that ‘doesn’t have.”
This year United Way of the National Capital Area, with support from a Loads of Love Grant rewarded by the Washington Redskins Charitable Foundation, is installing a community laundry unit at Francis C. Hammond Middle School. As part of the program, United Way NCA will be providing the community of Hammond with free laundry services; anything from volunteers to assist families who can’t supply the time to stocking and maintaining the efficiency of the units.
For Hammond, the Loads of Love program addresses a dire need in the community by instituting a minor change: making laundry accessible to everyone. In providing communities with a no cost method of cleaning their clothes, United Way NCA is helping students keep school a level playing field. By removing the barriers to education that come from dirty clothes, the Loads of Love program empowers students to develop healthy social lives, focus on their classes and feel supported by their community.