We all know how important it is that every child in Australia receives a quality education. That’s why, when shopping in store or online for your back-to-school supplies this January and February, you can join Officeworks and The Smith Family in their efforts to break the cycle of disadvantage by helping to support a child’s education through the Officeworks Back to School Appeal.

For many young Australians, the start of the school year is filled with excitement – whether that be seeing old friends, making new ones or finally getting to use their brand new pencils and books. But, for the one in six children and young people in Australia living in poverty today, that excitement can often be dampened by awareness of more grown-up problems, such as financial struggles at home.

The Officeworks Back to School Appeal helps fund The Smith Family’s Learning for Life program, which supports families and children experiencing disadvantage by providing financial, personal and extra learning support to students who need it most.

Since the Back to School Appeal began, customers and team members have contributed more than $8 million to The Smith Family, enabling over 12,000 one-year Learning for Life sponsorships to be provided to students across Australia. One of the students in the program is 14-year-old Shelby, an energetic child excited about his future and with a clear vision of where his education might lead him. But Shelby and his mum Sandy have certainly faced some challenges together over the years. 

The Importance of Education for All Children

 Shelby, a student in The Smith Family’s Learning for Life program, sits on a rock outdoors with a skateboard next to him.
Shelby is a student in The Smith Family’s Learning for Life program.

“Before Shelby was sponsored by The Smith Family, I had cut down my hours at work because I was studying to be able to get a better job, which was a really difficult time,” says Sandy. “We were living week to week. We were watching what we were paying; whether it was petrol in the car or swimming fees, it was always something that we had to keep an eye on,” she says, adding “Especially in remote learning, it was expected that we had everything that we needed at home – whether it be pens and paper or rulers and glue – but we had to go out and purchase all that ourselves. The support from The Smith Family made things like that a lot easier.”

“Back-to-school costs are so expensive, too, with uniforms and shoes and stationery. The Smith Family has definitely eased that burden for us with the kids going back to school. Having their uniforms and shoes paid for is such a fantastic thing.”

How The Smith Family’s Learning for Life Program Helps Students Change Their Lives

For Sandy and her family, the financial support from The Smith Family was a welcome relief, especially at back-to-school time. But Shelby was facing his own challenges at school. 

“He isn’t your typical academic child who loves school,” says Sandy. “Shelby was having a really difficult time at school. He was starting to notice that he was a little bit behind compared to his peers and was coming home and getting really frustrated that he wasn’t quite getting it – especially with his maths.” 

“There were times at school when I was struggling,” says Shelby. “It was really hard. I’d want to go home and do simple maths homework, but I just couldn’t do it. It did make me mad and sad, because I had no idea what to do. I felt like I had to ask everyone in my class how to spell this, how to write this, how to do this.” 

That’s when Shelby was enrolled in one of The Smith Family’s learning support programs. As Sandy watched her son begin to catch up at school, it was as though someone had turned on a light for him.

“Having The Smith Family’s support has definitely helped us financially,” she says. “And it’s definitely helped Shelby with his learning – way more than we could have imagined. Once he started tutoring, he got really excited to go back to school because he said that he was finally ‘getting it’. You could see the change in him, you could see his mood changed. He was more confident with what he was doing at school. It’s like a light switch just changed for him. It helped him reach his milestones, especially with his maths, which he was really struggling with. And from that, he caught up to where he needed to be.”

The Benefits of The Smith Family’s Learning for Life Program

A close-up image of Sandy and her son Shelby sitting in a library.
Sandy (left) says the financial support from The Smith Family is a welcome relief, especially when it comes to back-to-school time for her son Shelby (right).

As Shelby’s confidence continues to grow in his core subjects, he’s been able to channel his natural strengths into some more practical subjects at school, like woodwork. As these pieces start to fit together, Shelby is beginning to explore a new and exciting pathway for his future.

“The Smith Family has helped my mum pay for school uniforms and school shoes,” he says. “But the best thing about The Smith Family help is the tutoring. That’s definitely helped me at school. It’s taught me lots of things like English, writing and maths. I definitely feel like I’m getting better at maths. It’s helping me with understanding the calculations and the measurements in woodwork. You need maths to learn other things in life, like woodwork.

“I do like working with my hands, because I can see things come to life. I’ve made a couple of things in woodwork, like a toolbox, a tissue box and a phone holder. I’ve been building a table, too. 

“When I finish school, I want to be a carpenter and I want to run my own business. I want to build my mum a house – it’s a dream goal for me,” says Shelby. “If my maths was behind, I couldn't reach my goals.”

SEE ALSO: Back to School Tips to Help You Get Organised

A Bright Future for Learning for Life Students

 Sandy and son Shelby lean on a handrail while conversing outdoors.
Sandy (left) says her son Shelby’s (right) has a bright future supported by The Smith Family’s Learning for Life program.

Pride is written across her face as Sandy talks about how Shelby’s ambitions and dreams are expanding, day by day. 

“Shelby’s plans for his future have definitely changed,” she says. “He’s now wanting to finish school, get an apprenticeship and have his own business. I can see that he’s actually got goals and a plan for his future, which is great. He’s gone from being a little bit hesitant to go to school every day to absolutely thriving and loving it.

“If you’re able to be a sponsor and support The Smith Family, I say absolutely go for it. Shelby has been lucky enough to be sponsored the whole three years by the same sponsor. He’s received letters and cards and birthday wishes. It’s been so nice for him to have someone else who cares about his education other than me.

“My dream for Shelby is to do something that he’s good at and something that he loves, whether it be carpentry, or owning his own business, or building his own house. I hope he does whatever makes him happy.

“I'm really, really proud of Shelby, his drive and his passion.” 

The Smith Family Is Helping Shape Our Next Generation

The Smith Family’s Learning for Life recipient Shelby photographed outdoors from waist up with his hands in his pockets.
The Smith Family’s Learning for Life recipient Shelby says his confidence has grown thanks to the program.

As a big brother, Shelby knows how important it is for him to set a good example for his sisters. By making the most of his educational opportunities, he wants to show them how exciting the future can be.

“It’s important to have a good education,” says Shelby. “To get a better job, you need skills like reading, writing and maths – these things that they teach at school are the things you need to get a better job. A better paid job helps you look after your family, and I want to set a good example for my sisters to look up to. It made me feel proud. I can easily do something that I couldn’t before.

“By supporting The Smith Family, you are showing that you care about someone out there. Thank you for supporting students like me.”

How to Support The Smith Family’s Learning for Life Program

When completing your back to school shop this January and February at Officeworks, you can help raise vital funds to support The Smith Family’s Learning for Life program by purchasing a donation card for $2, $5, $10 or $20. These funds go directly to the Learning for Life program helping students like Shelby to fully participate in their education and pursue a better, brighter future.

What To Try

This piece was originally published in 2022 and has been updated.