Through the TIA venture Backpacks for Kids, this student reciprocates the generosity she received.  

When Che Ku Kyet ’24 was 6 years old, her family emigrated from Thailand to America and arrived at The Center, a refugee resettlement space in Utica, N.Y. She then entered the public school system, and at this critical time in her life, The Center provided her with a backpack full of school supplies, including notebooks and pencils. Today, Kyet works to reciprocate The Center’s generosity as the president of the Thought Into Action (TIA) venture Backpacks For Kids (BFK).

“My parents couldn’t have known what [my three siblings and I] needed or where to get it,” she recalls. “Receiving backpacks relieved stress on my family in the already traumatizing process of resettlement.”

With the books included in her backpack, Kyet began reading to familiarize herself with the English language. She excelled in her early education, for which she was later recognized by the Young Scholars Liberty Partnership Program.

At Colgate, Kyet is on the pre-med track with hopes of becoming a surgeon and returning to Thailand to provide health care aid within refugee camps. She joined BFK last spring, when she learned of the organization’s aim to help refugees.

“I was drawn to BFK because I want to be able to give back the help that I received,” says Kyet. “These kinds of backpacks relieve financial burdens and allow refugee children to feel a sense of safety.”

BFK’s board currently consists of 13 members who direct fundraising, grant writing, and public relations for the nonprofit venture, which was founded in 2020 by three students: Jillian Holiday ’23, Raina Jung ’23, and Marie Goodrich ’23. When their volunteers arrive at The Center, they donate backpacks filled with educational and hygienic supplies such as books, combs, and toothbrushes. The backpacks also provide children with toys and coloring supplies. “Some refugee youth are transported from shelter to shelter, so coloring distracts the kids on their long rides,” says Taryn Lane ’26, who directs fundraising for BFK. “And if they’re traveling with a group, this is an activity they can bond over with the youth on board.”

Beyond their material impact, BFK also aims to spread awareness of their cause on campus through film screenings and dialogues about the refugee presence in Utica. And with the resources of TIA’s mentorship program, the group is supported by a robust alumni network.

“With TIA’s support and encouragement, we’ve been able to make Backpacks For Kids happen,” says Kyet. “The program has allowed us to make a tangible change.”