Bienestar residents play educational games to fill their backpacks with school supplies.
Bienstar Oregon

With back-to-school season in full swing, families across the state are preparing the wrap up their summer fun and return to classes for the 2022-2023 school year. Our partners over at Bienestar have a fun and exciting way to get kids engaged for the new school year while receiving the supplies they need. Families living in Bienestar housing kicked things off the right way with the return of their Back-to-School Fair  – the first full fair since 2019. Volunteers from Hands On Greater Portland, Workday, and Bienestar all gathered at one of Bienestar’s locations in Forest Grove to help organizer Kaylen Miller put on this event for Bienestar families. There was much anticipation in the air for the first full-blown event for families since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bienestar director Nathan Teske talked about the return of this event and how excited everyone was for

“When COVID hit, we did what we could do to help still provide resources for our families,” said Teske.

Instead of running the Back-to-School Fair, his team focused time on providing gift cards and rent assistance resources to 509 different housing units they manage in Washington County. They set up text communications with residents and have been working on scaling up their back-to-school event over the last two years. Thanks to the dedication of Kaylen Miller, 2022 saw the return of the Back-to-School Educational Kids fair which had families lining up out the door to attend.

Miller started off as a volunteer with Bienestar’s after-school homework program. When she found that wasn’t working with her schedule but wanted to do more, she came up with a back-to-school backpack giveaway in 2013. This event provided backpacks full of school supplies to kids from Bienestar families.

​Bienstar family poses for a photo and the Back-to-School fair
​ Bienestar family poses for a photo and the Back-to-School fair

“When it first started, it was fairly manageable, but over the next few years my friends, family and community kept donating more and more every year,” Miller recalls.

Miller had the passion to keep the event going but still wanted to do more. Thus, the Back-to-School Fair was born.

Volunteers spent the morning setting up fun, educational games for the kids to participate in. Games like a lollipop tree, bean bag toss, matching games and so much more kept families entertained and prepared them for the coming school year. Everyone was a winner, no matter the game! Prizes ranged from a variety of school supplies like pencils, notebooks and folders to other items such as socks, hygienic supplies, books and even some fun toys. Kids lined up at tables to play games and put their well-earned prizes in their new backpacks, which were given to each school-age kid at the event check-in. Other activities made the carnival feel like a complete event for the families. Kids were lined up getting face painting done and others were at the Forest Grove Library table receiving free books. A local taco truck also provided food for attendees and a cake walk gave participants a chance to take home a whole cake and provide dessert for the entire family. 

“I like to work with kids, and it’s a good excuse to get outside and get moving,” Daniel said.

Another volunteer, Stacey, has been volunteering at the event for the last 8 years. He’s friends with Kaylen and heard about the event from her.

“I like giving back to my community, anything to help kids go back to school and make it easier on parents seems like a good cause to me. They’re a part of the population that isn’t as respected as they should be and are working hard for us all,” Stacey said when asked why he keeps coming back to volunteer every year.

"They’re a part of the population that isn’t as respected as they should be and are working hard for us all"

Hands On Greater Portland is proud to help organizations such as Bienestar find volunteers to help at events such as these. If you are looking to get involved, please check out the project calendar on the Hands On Greater Portland website.