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New ‘Men of Change’ Group Organizing School Supplies Giveaway

WHEELING — While living in North Carolina for about 15 years, Wheeling native Joe Sparksman helped to create a program that offered mentoring, parenting classes and educational workshops in Raleigh.

When Sparksman returned to live in Wheeling early last year, he wanted to create a similar civic organization to “empower our community” with educational resources and support.

The killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police this May motivated Sparksman to launch Men of Change Ohio Valley, which he hopes will be “a voice for the unheard.”

“With the way the world is going right now, we organized this group because with as much divisiveness in the world and in this country, we wanted to be a group that brought the community together,” said Sparksman, who is president of the organization. “The focus of our group is to uplift our community, empower our community, and really support them and be a resource for the community.”

To begin that mission, the newly formed Men of Change will be launching their first event this weekend with a school supplies drive-through giveaway from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at 15th and Jacob streets in Wheeling. The event will deliver 200 backpacks filled with school supplies to children in the Ohio Valley, and will offer Census and voter registration information to adults. Due to COVID-19, Sparksman said they wanted to offer a safe environment to families coming to the event, hence the drive-through distribution. But they’ll also have a barber offering free haircuts from 10 a.m. to noon. Sparksman said the barber and person getting a haircut will be masked, people will be asked to wash their hands beforehand and supplies will be cleaned after every cut.

“That was obviously the biggest concern we had. We wanted to remain safe, keep the community safe, as well as ourselves,” Sparksman said.

“We were thinking of ways to overcome social distancing. Keep people safe through social distancing guidelines.”

In addition to distributing school supplies to children, Sparksman said educating people on the importance of the decennial Census and offering resources to register to vote or send in mail-in ballots is central to the group’s mission.

“The census is a key factor in our representation in funding for our schools. By completing the census and having an accurate count, it determines a lot of resources,” he said.

“Voter registration is a big push, mainly from myself, because this is an important election year,” Sparksman added. “It’s key we get people out to vote.”

Sparksman, who works as the northern regional case manager for Catholic Charities, said anyone can join the Men of Change group, and they’re hoping to organize more events soon.

“This is a fairly new,” Sparksman said. “We hope this event this weekend really gets us out there so people can see we are present. We want to be present in the community and be a voice for the unheard.”

For more information about the group, email Sparksman at ovmenofchange@gmail.com.

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