#SomethingGood: Fort Worth Nonprofit Seeks to ‘Fill a Classroom, Not a Landfill'

The nonprofit takes items donated by companies and individuals and gives them to teachers - for free.

Teachers spend a lot out of their own pocket for things they need and perhaps more importantly, for what their kids need.

"I teach at a Title 1 school and they just don't bring in supplies, so this seemed like a good thing to do to stock up my room," said David Byrd, a science teacher in the White Settlement ISD.

"Some kids don't bring any supplies at all, so anything I can find so they don't feel uncomfortable and they feel like they can all get the same stuff," echoed Josephine Razo, a first year teacher in the Fort Worth ISD.

Byrd and Razo were among 100-plus teachers who showed up Saturday morning at The Welman Project in Fort Worth. It's a nonprofit whose mission is "to fill a classroom not a landfill. And the way we do that is we encourage the community to give what they no longer need so that we can pass that on to our teachers and our educators," explained founder Vanessa Barker.

"We're combating waste reduction and lack of resources in our schools with one really awesome solution, and that's creative reuse," she said.

Barker hit on the idea of creative reuse while teaching on the west coast and working fashion week on the east coast.

"I noticed a lot of stuff being thrown out and a lot of kids in need on the other side of the country," she said.

She eventually returned to her hometown of Fort Worth to partner with childhood friend Taylor Willis to take her creative reuse project and launch a full-fledged nonprofit. [[556184532,C]]

"I thought it was brilliant. I've known her forever, and I think everything she does is brilliant. She's always that person coming up with a great idea. So this was just one of many," Willis said. "We've always had dream to work together and so something together in our adult lives, and this was the perfect opportunity to take that idea and run with it."

From a small warehouse behind a church building, they take items destined for landfills and help teachers find creative new uses for them -- at no cost.

"A lot of teachers come in here, thinking what's this gonna cost me? What's the gimmick? There's no gimmick," Barker said. "Everything you see in here is free for teachers. Period."

"We are so lucky to see and talk to so many amazing teachers who are passionate about their jobs. They are doing everything for the kids, and for us to be able to make that job just a little bit easier is so rewarding," Willis said.

For Razo, the elementary teacher in Fort Worth, it brings huge relief.

"I'm a first year teacher, so we dont' get paid until a month later. So I need things like an office chair for my desk area and journals for my kids, they say you can never have enough journals," she said.

The warehouse is stacked with all kinds of items a teacher might need or not realize he or she needs until the "wellies" (the name for the four staff members and their volunteers) point it out.

"Look at this. Look at this. This is a VHS case. And it makes the best pencil holder," exclaimed Barker. "Pencils, paintbrushes and small craft sticks fit right in there. It's durable and they stack really nice. Great organization for the classroom!"

Even boxes are re-purposed.

"If someone gives us a bunch of boxes, which we have, I have got all the different ways you can use that in math, science, engineering, technology, art, language arts all the way from pre-k to high school," Barker said. "You can talk about composting by taking lunch materials from that day, filling the box, burying that box, opening it up on the last week of school. What decomposed? What didn't? What's that impact?"

The impact of The Welman Project on teachers and landfills is seen in the data the group collects on every item that comes in or goes out and through every teacher whose helped.

"This past 2018-19 school year, we served over 900 teachers out of this little building here. We rescued 130 dumpsters worth of materials and distributed over $800,000 worth of goods to our local schools," Willis said.

And, it's all done out of a small warehouse behind a church building; a warehouse stacked practically from floor to ceiling and stuffy on a hot August afternoon.

"Our dream for this nonprofit is a dream for the community, and that is a much bigger facility with air conditioning but more importantly, so that we can invite more community members into our doors and have everyone explore creative reuse," Barker said.

An idea perhaps Barker has explored all her life she explains while talking about why her nonprofit is called The Welman Project.

"The Welman Project comes from the last name of my biological mother," she said. "And it seems like a fitting name to go with this mission in the way that I was given a second chance and someone else saw a use for me, in a lot ways. So it's there to honor her selflessness. And it's also just a rad name -- be well, man!"

"We can impact Fort Worth," Barker said. "We can impact DFW exponentially if we can have physical grow as big as our dreams have already grown."

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