Shop with a Bulldawg (SWAB) gives UGA students the opportunity to connect with an elementary student for a day and go shopping during the holiday season, but SWAB gives Elizabeth Howard the opportunity to use her passion to connect the UGA community and the community of Athens.
SWAB began operating six years ago but for Elizabeth Howard, senior, public relations major, her involvement began as a mentor when she was a freshman.
“As a first-year mentor, I talked to a mom who was just trying to provide diapers for her baby,” Howard said. “There are so many people in need outside of the University and it is an honor to be able to provide a necessity for someone.”
81% of students—Pre-K through High School— in Clarke County receive free or reduced lunch. Many families are unable to prioritize presents during the holidays so SWAB gives these kids an opportunity to purchase things they need, as well as extra toys or gifts they wouldn’t be able to buy otherwise.
After serving as a mentor, Howard joined the Shop with a Bulldawg Executive Board as director of event planning—later becoming the executive director this year to help execute SWAB’s mission to bring joy to children, hope to families, and the holidays to Athens.
Under Howard’s leadership, this year’s event on Dec. 6 will be the biggest one yet. It will involve 850 student mentors and 425 students.
“Elizabeth has helped transform SWAB into one of the most sought-after and well-known organizations on campus,” said senior, Ivy Odom, director of mentees. “The impact she has made will not be easily forgotten.”
As executive director, Howard directs her entire focus on the event once December arrives. On event day, the executive board arrives at The Classic Center at 5:30 a.m. to finish any last minute details before the kids and mentors arrive to experience programming and travel to Target to buy presents and essentials.
The Toy Story theme song inspired this year’s theme, “You’ve got a Friend in SWAB.” Kids spend the day with their mentor and new friend, but the impact has the potential to carry beyond a single day.
“The kids look up to college students so much because the mentors are planting seeds and giving them dreams for their futures,” Howard said.
Although SWAB’s effort is to directly impact the community, Elizabeth Howard is an example of Shop with a Bulldawg affecting her own life.
“SWAB encourages me to want to do something I’m passionate about,” said Howard. “In an interview, I’m able to talk about my professional experience, but I really just want to share what I’m passionate about.”
Howard’s passion directly influences those around her. “Elizabeth’s dedication does not just lie in the cause she is working for,” said senior Liz Tarver, SWAB’s director of mentors. “It lies in the people she is working with and for.”
During Howard’s junior year, she experienced a new level of generosity. A student began shopping with his mentor and asked if he could use some of the money to buy his sister a Barbie for Christmas.
“We are showing these children love and joy that they are spreading to their families and siblings,” Howard said. “This young boy had the opportunity to purchase something for himself, but instead he thought of others, and that’s truly what the holidays are all about.”