It Takes A Village: Project School Days Equips Students For Success
by Sheila Gardner, Special to the Carson Valley Times
Editor’s Note: Born out of a discussion with Douglas County School District Administrators about how to highlight those making a positive impact on the education of children within the community, we’re setting out on a journey to introduce you to the people who quietly make a difference every day in our school system. We’ll gladly accept nominees for these monthly profile pieces – you can send your suggestions to us at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/cvalleytimes. Anyone is eligible, from teachers and administrators to bus drivers, crossing guards and playground aides. Today marks the kickoff of our “It Takes A Village” series, as we take a look at “Project School Days” and its founder, Marilyn Malkmus.
GARDNERVILLE, Nev. — Around this time of year, a garage on the Orchard Road property of Marilyn and Carl Malkmus starts filling up with school supplies.
You’ll find cases of three-hole lined paper, boxes of binders and spiral notebooks, crayons by the carton and dozens of boxes of pencils, pens, markers, scissors and glue sticks.
There are shelves piled high with backpacks, English and Spanish paperback dictionaries, thesauruses and calculators.
Welcome to Project School Days.
For almost 20 years, Marilyn Malkmus and her core of volunteers (including Carl) have been providing for the needs of Douglas County schoolchildren whose families may not be able to afford the incidentals that accompany a public school education.
“In 1997, I was working on Project Santa Claus with Alis Nalder and she told me her daughter-in-law was a school teacher, and buying lots of school supplies for students with her own money,” Malkmus recalled. “She said we ought to do something for the schools.”
Malkmus and Nalder talked with then-Superintendent Pendery Clark, and Project School Days was born in 1998.
“We really had no idea what we were doing,” Malkmus said.
That was 17 years ago, and since then, the program has benefited 6,900 Douglas County school students. Teachers are invited every school year to fill out an order form for items for students in need. Everything is free to the teachers and students.
Project School Days is year-round, but activity picks up just before school starts.
“In the middle of the summer, I contact some friends who gave us donations we use to purchase specific items teachers said the children needed rather than stuff backpacks,” she said.
In addition to regular donors, Carson Valley United Methodist Church holds a monthly donation drive. One year, the Lions state convention sponsored the program.
Other funds and supplies come from Douglas County service clubs, businesses, organizations and individuals.
“Sometimes, people just leave donations on our porch because they trust Marilyn to take care of it,” Carl said.
Project School Days serves every school except Douglas High School in Carson Valley and at the Lake, as well as children who reside at Austin’s House, China Spring and Aurora Pines youth camps and those assisted by the Court-Appointed Special Advocates program.
Malkmus said the program wasn’t big enough to serve Douglas High School, but she learned this year the Salvation Army was considering a similar program at DHS.
“What an incredible place this community is,” Malkmus said, insisting that the program thrives because of the volunteer help and the giving nature of the community.
Carl Malkmus credited much of the program’s success to his wife’s organizational skills. Malkmus keeps records down to the smallest detail.
For example, she can tell you that in 2014, Project School Days assisted 30 percent of the district’s teachers (87) and 11 percent of the students (559). In 2012, the program distributed 245 pairs of scissors — 53 blunt and 192 sharp.
“I am very organized,” she said, “and I have lots of energy.”
When she can, Malkmus shops locally unless it’s more cost-effective to order bulk items online.
If there’s a shortage of paperback dictionaries at The Dollar Store, it’s because Malkmus got there first.
“A dollar for a dictionary!” she said.
“People like to know their money is staying in the community,” she said. “This program is 100 percent volunteer and that rings people’s bells.”
With the start of the school year, Malkmus and her volunteers gather in the garage at long tables and prepare supplies for distribution.
Carl joked that their friends start hiding when they know distribution day is near. But it’s so organized, Marilyn said the materials are sorted, packed up and distributed within three or four hours. Volunteers even deliver to the schools.
Marilyn Malkmus keeps the program confidential; only the teachers know the identity of the students who receive supplies.
She said last year, a middle school teacher used Project School Days as a teaching exercise for her class, asking her students to write about the importance of the program and how it benefits the classroom and the community.
“I didn’t want the other kids to know that so-and-so needs a backpack. But I’ve had to rethink this. That teacher used it as a teaching experience to learn about giving and what it’s like to receive help,” she said.
Project School Days mirrors the local economy.
“We’ve had some higher needs years as the economy goes up and down,” she said. “The numbers have been the same the last three or four years.”
Malkmus tries to keep the shelves stocked with supplies all year. Teachers can request additional items if new students come to their classrooms, or supplies are running low mid-year.
“In 2005, a family moved here after (Hurricane) Katrina. They had nothing, and we were able to supply them,” she said.
The nonprofit’s motto is, “A helping hand for the greatest asset Douglas County has — our children.”
It’s a philosophy Malkmus takes to heart.
“A few years ago, (Jacks Valley) Principal Pam Gilmartin had a sign outside the school that said a school is a building with four walls and the future inside. Our kids are the future of everything,” Malkmus said.
The Malkmuses, who celebrate their 49th wedding anniversary this year, moved to Carson Valley from Southern California in the early 1990s.
They sold their industrial construction and asphalt paving businesses and settled on Orchard Road in East Valley.
“We always loved camping and fishing and hiking in the Sierra,” Marilyn said. “We found this place, and at first, I was unsure of the winter. But we just love it here. We have been so fortunate; this was a perfect move for us.”