More than 1,000 children and adults attended a back-to-school celebration July 22 at the HUB for Community Innovation during an event hosted by the Augusta University Literacy Center and RISE Augusta.
Hundreds of local students of all ages enjoyed activities such as face painting, story times with guest speakers, dancing and yoga exercises while also receiving free backpacks filled with school supplies.
About 730 backpacks filled with age-appropriate supplies were given away to area students, said Betsy VanDeusen, PhD, director of the Augusta University Literacy Center.
“An event like this is important on many levels,” VanDeusen said. “First of all, the whole point of the HUB, which stands for ‘hear, understand and belong,’ is for us to be in the neighborhoods and in the area that we serve. We want people to know that we are here on a daily basis. And this is an example of community engagement, where we invite people to the HUB for support and to learn about all of our different services.”
During the back-to-school celebration, families not only received information on programs offered by the Augusta University Literacy Center and RISE Augusta, but also on other community partners such as the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Augusta, Harrisburg Family Health Care, Augusta Locally Grown and The Lucy Craft Laney Museum of Black History.
VanDeusen said she wants families to know the three goals of the Augusta University Literacy Center are to provide literacy instruction, community engagement and cultural programming.
“The Augusta University Literacy Center and RISE Augusta are very tied to the schools in this area. We are able to not just give away backpacks but also have literacy activities throughout the HUB and have fun activities like face painting and games to celebrate the start of the school year,” VanDeusen said. “We are also able, in a subtle way, to stress the importance of literacy. And we have informational sessions with the Richmond County School System providing bus route information and other helpful information to get families ready and excited about the new school year.”
Richmond County School System’s Student Services Departments also offered a booth to educate families about the parent portal and how they can use the app to track their children’s grades.
Ashley Badger, a mother of six, said preparing for the beginning of the school year is challenging because the list of school supplies can be expensive.
“Of my six children, five of them are in school, and it seems like the list of school supplies gets longer and longer each year,” she said. “So, for the HUB to offer an event like this, it really helps. And it’s also a nice event where we can learn about a variety of organizations in a fun way.”
Badger’s 7-year-old daughter, Madison, immediately ran up to the Disney princesses at the event and gave them all hugs. She and her younger sister got butterflies painted on their faces as their older siblings picked out free books from the HUB’s book fair.
Robin Davis Thompson, a grandmother of 26, said her cousin told her about the back-to-school event and the variety of activities offered at the HUB.
“I raised seven boys and seven girls, so 14 children in all. I know how tough it can be,” Thompson said, chuckling. “Now, with 26 grandchildren, I want to help my children out as much as possible, so an event like this really makes a difference.”
Lisa Wiggins brought her two grandchildren, Jaquanna and Maya, to the event not only to receive the free school supplies but also to enjoy the close community atmosphere at the HUB.
“This facility is absolutely beautiful, and there are so many wonderful organizations in the same building,” Wiggins said. “I’m so glad there is such a great turnout of people because more people will learn about all of the programs offered here throughout the year.”
Nicole Williams, grandmother to 8-year-old Journey, said she brought her granddaughter to the HUB to get her excited and prepared to start the school year.
“We are headed back to school soon, so coming to an event like this lets the kids be around one another again and mingle with other people and really appreciate what people do for you,” Williams said. “We are truly grateful. There is a real sense of community here.”
VanDeusen said the Augusta University Literacy Center and RISE Augusta couldn’t host such an event without the donations of its sponsors.
“I would be remiss if I did not thank AT&T for their generous donation of 450 backpacks,” she said, adding this is just the second year for the back-to-school event. “Last year, we found our backpacks might have been geared more toward younger children. In fact, we were actually surprised to see how many older kids came last year. So those 450 AT&T backpacks are filled with stuff for older kids, like headphones, phone chargers and some notebooks. That donation allows us to differentiate those populations and meet the older kids’ needs as well. So, this year, we have something for everyone.”