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June 11, 2010 > Helping Children... One at a Time

Helping Children... One at a Time

As another school year winds to a close, kids look forward to a summer of freedom and fun. At the end of summer, just like every other year, they will be shopping with their parents to get ready for that all-important first day of school when they'll be decked out in a brand new outfit.
Wearing new clothes on back-to-school day is a memory that many adults cherish too. Yet, Bernie Dutra remembers only what it felt like to go to school on the first day - and everyday - clothed in shame.
Dutra and her brothers grew up with an alcoholic mother. Each day, they entered the school yard still dirty from the day before, their hair and clothing a mess. The other kids wanted nothing to do with them, and once, she remembers being spit upon.
"I grew up with absolutely no self-esteem," reflects Dutra. "And, that feeling stayed with me until I was nearly 40. I couldn't even walk into a room full of people without thinking I didn't belong there."
Many people would have been permanently victimized by such terrible childhood memories, continuing to feel sad and isolated for life. Instead, Dutra used her memories to inspire herself and her family to help make sure other low income children would not suffer the same fate.
Based on past experiences, she and her husband John knew what it was like to live in poverty. As they built a successful real estate business in the Tri-City area and raised a family, they always wanted to do something to help less fortunate kids.
The time came during a dinner in 1999, when the whole family decided they should take action. The Dutras' daughter-in-law Dianna found a poem:
"I am only one, but I am someone . . .
I can't do everything, but I can do something.

Recognizing that we cannot save the world, we choose not to walk away, but to help one child at a time."

And, OneChild was born. OneChild is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing disadvantaged children with new clothing and school supplies. After beginning in Fremont, it now serves families throughout the Bay Area. Called "clients," children and families are selected through a referral process from several other local non-profit organizations. The OneChild "store" is unable to accommodate walk-in clients.
At OneChild, children are outfitted for school free of charge. Two fundraisers a year and the support they get from the community provide the funds needed to buy supplies. During their one-hour appointment, families "shop" in a comfortable environment where they select the items they need and the child tries them on. Each child receives two pairs of jeans, three shirts, one package each of socks and underwear, a sweat shirt and sweat pants, and a gift card for a pair of shoes. In addition, children receive a backpack with school supplies, as well as dental supplies and books. Everything they receive is new.
OneChild started out in 2001 at the Brier School where the Dutras' daughter-in-law worked. Family members used their own money to purchase new school clothes, which they displayed in a classroom throughout the month of August.

"We hung sheets around the room, put up fancy lights and used racks just like in the stores," remembers Dutra. "Kids and families came individually, spending up to an hour selecting their new clothes. That year, we served 51 children."
After a month, the room had to be converted back into a classroom, and the Dutra family looked for other places where they could continue OneChild. After presenting their idea to Fremont School District Superintendent Sharon Jones, they were given two rooms at one school to display their growing collection of new school clothes and back-to-school supplies. OneChild was able to use the rooms for no cost.
In 2002, after a speaking engagement at the Niles Rotary, Dutra met Nancy Farber, CEO of Washington Hospital. Farber was so enthusiastic about the project, she offered a free location for OneChild on the hospital grounds. The project soon expanded to portable rooms on the hospital campus, and that is where it is today.
"We fixed up the store to look like a department store, and it really looks great," Dutra reports. "The children love coming here, spending lots of time to pick out just the right clothing and supplies they need. We lavish lots of attention on each one so they know how great they look and how special they are."
OneChild has been Bernie Dutra's passion from the beginning.
"All children deserve the basic necessities for success in school," she says. "Our goal is to give them self-esteem. That's why we like to call what we do here 'clothing the spirit.'"
To learn more about OneChild, visit their Web site at The organization has a variety of opportunities for volunteering, which are described. The non-profit also accepts donations, and you'll find details on the Web site. For further information, you can also call (510) 713-8643.

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