Program that originated in Perkins County has helped nearly 6,200 Nebraska kids in last 9 years

The L2 for Kids program has provided new school clothes for nearly 6,200 Nebraska children in need over the past nine years.

And its inception grew from a Saturday shopping trip to Walmart that co-founders Henry and Pat Potter made with a young boy from Grant.

The couple purchased a shirt and tie for him along with some additional clothing, and he sported the new outfit the next morning at church.

“He was sitting in the front pew by himself and he was beaming,” said Henry, who is the president of the program’s seven-member board of directors. “It was like, ‘Look at me, baby!’ He was just so proud of those clothes. Then it hit me, like I was struck with an arrow. I knew that we were doing the right thing.

“I remember going through the checkout (with the boy) and the total came to about $97,” Henry said. “It turned out to be the best $97 that I’ve ever spent in my life. It has made for a lot of work over the years, but it has been worth it.”

The program is faith-based: L2 is a reference to Lazarus being given a second chance. The Potters began L2 for Kids in Perkins County with an initial investment of $14,000 and it has continued with donations from businesses and others. About 80 volunteers have helped with L2 for Kids since its inception.

In 2020, L2 for Kids helped 964 students from 40 communities in the state.

“We were hoping to make (a difference),” Henry said, “but who could have dreamt this? I never could have imagined it. This (program) has become our lives, but without all the volunteers and the donors, we wouldn’t be able to do it.

“It is a character-building vehicle (for the students),” Henry said. “That is all L2 is. It’s helping them build self esteem. It’s the old theory that if you look good, you feel good. When you feel good, you do good.”

In North Platte, the program helped seven students in 2013. That grew to 123 children the next year and then to 233 in 2015. The program reached a peak in the city in 2018 with 306 students. The number dropped to around 200 in each of the past two years.

The Potters received a COVID-19 Community CARES grant this year and said there is enough left in the fund to assist an additional 30 students in North Platte this year.

The only requirements for inclusion in the program are that the student must be enrolled in school and the family does not have means to purchase new school clothes. The Potters, who live in Willow Island, said many references come from local churches, but there are ones from police departments and other social service agencies.

The Potters arrange a time to meet a family at a Walmart, and each child is given a budget to shop for the clothes of their choice. It starts at $75 for elementary students and increases to $100 and $125 for those in middle school and high school.

“I just tell (the students) that the clothes have to be acceptable to wear to school,” Henry said. “If they aren’t, I’ll throw them out myself.”

Each student is allowed one shopping trip every year unless the family has an emergency event, like a fire, that causes a clothing shortage.

Pat said she just enjoys watching the students’ reactions on the shopping trips.

“Some of them are so tickled and so happy,” she said. “I talk to the mothers a lot and they will tell me about how this time they didn’t have to tell their kids ‘no’ about new clothes. It’s just amazing to watch.”

The Potters end the shopping trips by sitting down with the students and a pastor at a mission table, and a message of faith is delivered.

Henry said once he asked a young elementary school student if she knew Jesus loved her. The girl started crying and Henry apologized and asked if he had upset her.

“With tears running from her eyes and down her face, she said, ‘I didn’t know that anybody loved me.’ That’s just something that burns you to hear,” he said.

“We are Christians, and while we are not pastors, this is what we are doing to pay back,” Henry said of his and Pat’s involvement in the program. “We have made some money and we want to give some back to all of the communities. Who could have imagined that it would get this big?”