It’s been eight years since Peter Cross’s youngest daughter was getting ready to attend her first year of school in the Dominican Republic. Peter had moved there in 2005 to run one of Fibernetics’ call centres as VP of Contact Center Operations. He adjusted to life in a country where water and electricity are not to be taken for granted. But it wasn’t until his wife, Rosa, took their daughter shopping for school supplies, that he realized education is also a luxury for many children.

“My memory of school in Canada is that paper and pencils were available for anyone who needed them. But students in the Dominican are required to supply their own textbooks, workbooks, paper, writing implements, coloured pencils, and a uniform. If they can’t afford those items, then they can’t attend school.”

Kids in the Dominican Republic, ready for school

Kids in the Dominican Republic, ready for school thanks to Backpacks for Kids

Peter called the Fibernetics leadership team back in Canada. Fibernetics has always made giving back to community a priority. Happiness is a core value for us, and we’re always looking for ways to increase the well-being of our staff and customers, as well as the communities we live and work in. The leadership loved the grassroots charity idea Peter was pitching to support families and spread happiness and well-being in the Dominican: Backpacks for Kids.

Backpacks for Kids is one of our home-grown initiatives to help change lives and the communities we live and work in. It warms our hearts to think about what an honour it is for us to help these amazing kids. – John Stix, Fibernetics Co-Founder

Peter and his family distribute backpacks filled with school supplies to local children

Peter and his family distribute backpacks filled with school supplies to local children

Every year, Fibernetics employees raise funds through employee donations, company BBQs, and company contributions. Peter and a team of volunteers from Fibernetics’ Call Centre, to buy backpacks and fill them with school supplies specific to different age groups; from primary children who need crayons and glue, to teenagers who need three-ring binders and dividers. Each backpack also contains a gift certificate to be redeemed at the uniform shop for a few pairs of pants, shirts, and a pair of shoes so that one backpack gives a child everything they need for a year at school.

The first year, Peter and Rosa scheduled an event in their backyard to distribute the backpacks. Word spread in the community and on the day, fifty children arrived.

Children sit on chairs under tent

Children wait for the backpacks to be handed out

“I quickly became known as the ‘school supply guy’. People would just show up at my house or at the Fibernetics Call Centre. We helped everyone out as much as we could, and everyone was so grateful. One year a woman showed up with a bottle of milk for us. She’s a farmer, as many are down here, and that’s all she had to give. It was so meaningful to us to receive it.”

The next year, eighty kids showed up. Soon the list grew to 150 names long.

“There were too many kids and parents to host at my house, so we moved the event to the company parking lot and started providing lunch too, with hot dogs for the kids. It was great.”

Peter and kids with backpacks

Peter and kids with their backpacks

While Peter doesn’t like to boast about the time he and the team at the Fibernetics Call Centre devote to our in-house charity, the rest of us at Fibernetics Head Office in Cambridge, are happy to do it for him. Backpacks for Kids is a huge undertaking every year. Every year, Peter maintains and updates a binder with lists of families who need supplies. He goes out to the stores and negotiates deals to buy as many supplies as possible. Then he takes it all home where he, his family, and Fibernetics staff volunteers pack each backpack with the supplies each child needs. They make sure to always have extras on hand in case kids come who aren’t on the list, like the three young boys who showed up one year, running into the office parking lot with no shoes on, each looking for a backpack to call their own.

Fibernetics call centre employees volunteer to unpack and sort school supplies (with some help from Peter's daughters!)

Volunteers from the Fibernetics call centre unpack and sort school supplies (with some help from Peter’s daughters!)

Peter sees first-hand the lives that are being impacted and his dream is to see the Fibernetics family continue to support this initiative for many years to come.

We’ve seen some of these kids every year over the course of almost ten years. It’s overwhelming to look at a child and realize that the Fibernetics family is the reason why this individual is able to go to school. It’s incredible to realize that without these supplies, they wouldn’t get an education at all. We’re changing the life path of entire families, just by providing something as simple as a backpack and a uniform. – Peter Cross, Fibernetics VP of Contact Centre Operations

Two boys peer into the backpacks, excited to see their new school supplies

Two boys peer into the backpacks, excited to see their new school supplies

Peter on couch filling backpacks

Peter at the Fibernetics Call Centre, filling backpacks with socks to complete the school uniform

This year, Peter and his team are looking for a new way to distribute backpacks as COVID19 will prevent them being able to host everyone at the office. He’s already getting calls from families who are anxious to know if Backpacks for Kids will be continued this year.

Times are tough for everyone, but especially for families who rely on a backpack to ensure their child can get an education, and Peter says the families are grateful to hear that Fibernetics has pledged to provide 150 backpacks again this year.

COVID19 or not, we will not stop supporting Backpacks for Kids as best that we can. Thank you to all Fibernetics staff, along with Peter and his family. – John Stix, Fibernetics Co-Founder

There’s still a lot of uncertainty about exactly when schools will reopen in the Dominican Republic. But one thing is for sure: when the schools open, Fibernetics wants the kids to be ready.