Back-to-school programs have long been a favorite end-of-summer member initiative for many Junior Leagues (see here and here). And they provide a valuable service for many families who may not have the resources to buy new backpacks and school supplies before the start of each school year. But the Junior League of Augusta is launching an ambitious initiative to provide kids with something that can’t fit into a backpack – the traditional school field trip.

Sounds mundane? Just listen.

The near-elimination of field trip and travel resources in the Augusta area’s public schools has caused a major reduction in field trips funded through the school system. That means that a mainstay of educators, particularly in the primary grades when kids are most open to new learning adventures, is slipping away.

At the same time, cultural institutions in Georgia’s third-largest city and surrounding Richmond County are under stress. The institutions that have been affected include: the National Science Center’s Fort Discovery closed permanently in 2010; the Augusta Museum of History’s Susan Still Children’s Discovery Room was shuttered in 2009; the Art Factory, Inc., a local arts and crafts school, dissolved in 2012; and the Augusta Museum of History has reduced its schedule by two days a week.

The cause and effect – and ultimate impact – of these trends became apparent to the Junior League of Augusta’s leadership: Not only are schoolchildren being deprived of the opportunity to experience Augusta’s cultural institutions, but the institutions themselves are rapidly being starved for lack of attendance.

This problem is by no means unique to Augusta; but what the Junior League of Augusta has done may create a model for other organizations looking to preserve their civic capital.

The Junior League of Augusta has allocated a total of $3,000 in their 2013-14 fiscal year General Operating Budget to fund field trip awards to area teachers. This will provide field trips to 720 students, or a minimum of 12 groups of 60 students, with each award covering the cost of a bus, driver and admission to a local museum or cultural attraction.

And that’s not all that the Junior League of Augusta and its members are doing to help local schools and their students.

Since 1986, the Junior League of Augusta’s Awards for Classroom Enrichment – also known as ACE Awards – have provided grants to area teachers to support the introduction of creative and innovative projects into their classrooms. Through the Arts and Reading Program, first introduced in 1996, Junior League of Augusta members teach art to third grade public school students in this community program affiliated with the Greater Augusta Arts Council and the Morris Museum of Art. And Girls on the Run, an after-school program started in 2011, uses the power of running to help prepare girls for a lifetime of self-respect and healthy living.