Westerville residents are helping to send 26 children to summer school classes in the Westerville City School District.

Neighborhood Bridges, an approved 501(c)(3) charitable organization, has provided a gateway for the donations.

Rick Bannister, founder and CEO of Neighborhood Bridges, said the organization was able to donate $800 to help children and families who needed some assistance to cover the balance of fees owed for summer school in Westerville last year.

"This spring, principal Sherry Birchem and her wonderful staff at Pointview Elementary contacted Neighborhood Bridges to see if we could again provide assistance," he said. "Pointview has the highest percentage of children who qualify for free and reduced lunch and so we understand these are children in need."

Bannister said he then opened it up to the school district, encouraging principals and staff to advocate for students in their buildings who are in similar situations.

"The staff in Westerville takes care in identifying students and families who are truly in need of assistance," he said. "We do not learn the identity of anyone in need of assistance. This is an important part of our mission at Neighborhood Bridges."

In the meantime, Bannister said, $1,200 was raised from community members -- a 50 percent higher total than last year.

Scott Ebbrecht, Westerville schools' director of alternative education and assessment, coordinated what Bannister called the "act of kindness" at the district level.

Ebbrecht said the need was actually $1,805, so Neighborhood Bridges raised another $400 or a total of $1,600 through donations from community members.

The Sunrise Rotary Club of Westerville also recently made a $1,000 donation to Neighborhood Bridges so $205 was taken out of that donation to meet the need.

"It was perfect timing, and we put some of the donated money right to use on behalf of at-risk students here in Westerville," Bannister said.

"We thank Sherry Birchem and her staff for the initial advocacy which allowed us to open this up and direct more support to students in need," he said.

He said Birchem is a tireless advocate for her students, as are many teachers and administrators.

Through the generosity of the community, Ebbrecht said, 26 children received assistance to attend summer school intervention classes this year.

Of those students, 11 are high school students and 15 are in grades K-8.

"We sought support through Neighborhood Bridges to offset cost, but families also contribute to a child's summer learning," he said. "There are certain costs ranging from $40 to $400, depending on grade level and specific program."

Ebbrecht said families pay a part and Neighbor Bridges provides support with partial scholarships.

Over time, he said, the district has found there are individuals willing to step up to support students.

"Neighborhood Bridges brings those individuals together," Ebbrecht said. "It provides a means for individuals to donate rather than calling individuals. It falls under one umbrella. We've had support in the past but not to this extent."

He said Bannister has given the district a platform to get additional contributions to support students.

The district has about 750 students in its Summer Learning Program in grades K-12.

Ebbrecht said high school students are in the program seeking to recover credit and advance in courses for the following school year.

For instance, he said, students can take physical education to free up their course schedule during the school year so they can take courses such as band, choir, orchestra, advanced placement and College Credit Plus opportunities.

Students in grades K-5 are in the program for summer intervention.

"It's kids who need skills in math and reading," Ebbrecht said of the intervention options.

"We also provide transportation for all students participating in the program in K-12," he said. "Our district is always looking to reduce barriers for attendance. Neighborhood Bridges also reduced barriers. They started last year in helping support students and this year they stepped up even more."

Bannister said he's excited that Neighborhood Bridges more than doubled its effort from last year.

"This is for kids who are at risk and need intervention to advance," he said. "I'm grateful for the schools for advocating this way with us. The community has responded both years. I'm proud of Westerville."