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Backpacks for Success

Jenna Jamieson checks a donation box for Backpacks for Success in SIU Student Center. 

CARBONDALE — When Jenna Jamieson started working as an aide at a local elementary school, she began to notice how many children did not have backpacks, coats or gloves. She started donating backpacks to Boys and Girls Club of Carbondale and buying gloves to students who needed them.

“I was just doing it out of my own pocket,” Jamieson said.

Two things happened that made Jamieson seek additional help: Tina Carpenter of BGCC contacted her and asked her to donate more backpacks. She also began teaching business and consumer economics at Carbondale Community High School.

“In high school, backpacks are the primary way of carrying books,” Jamieson said. “I think honestly, I did not realize there’s so much poverty. So many students cannot afford basics like pencils and paper.”

So, she decided to find a group that would partner with her in a project she called Backpacks for Success. Jamieson approached several registered student organizations at Southern Illinois University for help. Circle K contacted her and agreed to partner with her. In 2017, they collected 50 new and gently used backpacks.

This year, Jamieson hopes to provide even more backpacks for students in need. The second annual Backpacks for Success will collect new and gently used backpacks of any size or color through Feb. 28 at SIU Student Center, Morris Library, SIU Student Services Building, Carbondale Community High School and Neighborhood Coop.

“This felt like the perfect way to give back,” Jamieson said.

To help with the project, Jamieson was awarded a $500 grant from Illinois Education Association through its Schools and Community Outreach by Educators program, which provides grants to educators in the first 10 years of their careers to fund a service project.

For Jamieson, giving back is a way of life, whether in small random acts of kinds or larger projects like Backpacks for Success. She volunteers at SIU commencement each year, as well as the entire tailgating season. She also donates her time and talents to the Maple Syrup Festival at Touch of Nature Environmental Center, SIU Homecoming Committee and CCHS robotics team.

She regularly leaves notes on vehicles belonging to veterans, and gave the leftover cupcakes from her wedding to Carbondale Police and Fire departments.

Giving back is so important to Jamieson that she wrote a book about it, “Giving Back: Lessons from an Adopted Immigrant on why a Happy Life is About Helping Others.”

Jamieson was born on the streets of Calcutta, India, and was adopted when she was only four months old.

“I don’t know if people understand how adoption changes lives,” she said.

Jamieson encourages others to join her mission of being kind and helping others.

“Kindness is free. Being nice is free. You don’t have to be rich to change someone’s life. Simple things make a big difference,” Jamieson said.

For more information, contact Jamieson through email at or on Facebook. Her book is available at



Marilyn Halstead is a reporter covering Williamson County.

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