'Role Models' collecting school supplies

Non-profit group helps at-risk students become mentors

A non-profit group is collecting school supplies to help families in need for the next school year.
A non-profit group is collecting school supplies to help families in need for the next school year.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – As students get ready to head back to school, this time of year can be overwhelming, financially and emotionally, for all parents and students. But it can be especially tough for families struggling just to make ends meet.

A non-profit group is helping students and parents, they're called 'Role Models'.

The founder of the group, Robert Releford, is so dedicated, that although he has since moved to Atlanta, he travels back and forth to keep this organization going. He was a police officer with the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office for 10 years, came in contact with a vulnerable student he was going to have to arrest for theft. Twenty years later, they're like father and son, mentoring kids together and they're looking for your support.

"My son is 12 and he's at that stage where he needed that male role model in his life and he has stepped up and done an amazing job," said mother Crystal Weber.

Webber is a mother of four, talking about the relationship between her son Thomas, and Robert Releford the founder of Role Models.

Weber said she was lost about a year ago and had no idea what to do with her adolescent teen who was acting out and heading in the wrong direction, until her son's school referred her to Mr. Releford and his foundation.

"I was having a hard time with him and he's not like that anymore, he's more respectful, more polite just caring about what he says and does and he notices his actions now more then what he did before," said Releford.

Thomas has since become one of nine Role Models, who work with about 80 other of their peers currently in the program.

They work on social and life skills while doing things like organizing donations already received for a school supply drive called 'Tools for Schools'.

"When we ask for charitable donations, we understand that organizations and companies also go through the same economic hardships as the individual family does. We're asking if we all pull together and we come together as a community one tiny step at a time, we can climb the mountain and in the Paxon community is where we're going to start with that," said Nicole Harshaw, Director of Student Education for Role Models.

Role Models is accepting donations for the drive now. They said if you're a parent in a fortunate enough position to be able to pick up an extra composition book or pack of pens to donate, make sure you involve your own child in that. Use it as a teaching moment to let them know the importance of giving.

For those in need that will receive the donations, it's much more then a new notebook or t-shirt, it gives them a sense of importance and belonging. Something Robert Releford said helps set a good tone for students as they transition from summer break into a new school year.

"When a kid can feel like they are somebody and they are capable of being, I guess alongside those people who get more credit then they do, it helps build their self esteem, it makes them feel good about themselves and that's important," said Releford.

Releford now lives in Atlanta but this is where his heart is and that's why he travels back and forth every week to stay involved. However, the student that inspired him to start the foundation is about to take over as CEO. 

The first annual Paxon Neighborhood Back to School Celebration is Saturday, August 10th.

Free school supplies will be given to students while people enjoy food and activities.

For information on the event or where to drop off donations, call 904-765-0665, or call 904-887-3764 or email info@rolemodelsfoundation.org.