12_DeWanna Tarver_TONED

DeWanna Tarver holds one of the chair backs that will be given to Calcasieu Parish elementary students in August. The chair backs were sewn by Angola inmates. A chair back can be seen fitted over a seat at the Calcasieu Parish School Board warehouse Tuesday. The box to her right is filled with more of the chairbacks.

When classes start back up in August, every elementary student who attends a Calcasieu Parish School Board school will receive a free chair back courtesy of DeWanna's Community Closet and Angola's Prison Enterprises.

No longer will parents be running around at the last minute searching for the perfect heavy-duty denim chair back and then rushing to get it monogrammed, as well.

And no longer will any student feel left out because he or she does not have a chair back.

DeWanna Tarver, who heads up DeWanna's Closet, said the partnership came about when the Calcasieu Parish Sheriff's Office put her in touch with Prison Enterprises.

Tarver's organization provides school uniforms, shoes, belts, jackets, backpacks and school supplies to educators who identify students in need of those resources.

"We knew we needed to find another option for chair backs and that's how we ended up at Angola," Tarver said. "We sent them the specs and they made us a chair back; now they are making us 16,000 chair backs. And you know how much they are costing the families of our students? Not one penny. Mr. (Karl) Bruchhaus arranged for the School Board to furnish them."

At last count, a Facebook post Tarver made about the chair backs had received more than 1,000 "likes," had more than 200 comments and was shared more than 275 times.

Parents and teachers spoke overwhelmingly in support of the endeavor on Tarver's post, with one saying, "When the whole classroom has the same basic supplies, the dignity of our children is preserved."

Tarver said the vinyl chair backs "may not be as cute and colorful as our previous ones but they are sturdy and we are hoping to get three or four years out of them."

She said these chair backs will cost about a third of what the original ones cost.

"And parents tell me the denim ones usually only made it about a year," Tarver said. "These are sturdy and we hope they will last longer. Teachers are excited because these can be sprayed and wiped down."

There's one more reason Tarver is happy about being able to supply every elementary student with the same type of chair back.

"We realized after being open for a few months that the two or three children in the classroom who didn't have a chair back felt as different as the child who had holes in their shoes or whose pants were way too short," Tarver said. "Our goal is to have a child not be distracted by the things they don't have or the ways they are different. We want them to be able to focus as much as possible on the teacher and what she/he is teaching."

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