Most likely, all you will be able to see are bright yellow balloons and a long line of parents and children winding outside Watauga High School’s gym door, eager to attend the Third Annual Back-2-School Festival, from 10 a.m.- 2 p.m. on August 8.
Three years ago, Amber Bateman, director of Quiet Givers, with three children of her own, came to appreciate the financial challenge that buying school supplies presented for many of our local families.
After speaking with school social workers and counselors, Amber discovered that many children come the first day of school with few of the needed school supplies.
She was surprised to hear that counselors and social workers had to locate supplies and that classroom teachers reached into their own pockets to fill remaining needs.
Amber, knowing the average teacher salary and learning of the limited supplies budget, saw this as an opportunity — and as a need — that she thought might be able to be addressed with a little collaboration and ingenuity.
She began to ask others, “What if we had an event where we were able to meet some of these needs before school starts, so that all kids have the chance to start school, the first day, feeling confident and prepared? What if we offered enough school supplies so the teachers wouldn’t have to spend their own money to buy them?”
Denise Presnell, a school social worker, encouraged Amber to talk to another passionate woman who had asked the same questions, Angela McMann, Western Youth Network’s Mentoring Programs’ Director.
The two met, along with Crystal Kelly, Children’s Council director, Todd Carter, Hospitality House Director of Development, and others to dream up what is now the Back-2-School Festival.
These individuals were eager to create an event that offered relief in a positive atmosphere, while also offering a chance for families who might be served to also help with the project.
Amber involved school social workers to ensure the festival was crafted in a way that families who would not normally ask for help, but needed it, might feel welcome. Counselors and social workers estimated that about 150 people might attend the county-wide event.
Still, the group was eager to move forward. They wanted to combine individual school-supply efforts into this one event, in hopes of having a greater impact on the community.
Soon, local churches and other service groups, clubs and Appalachian State University joined in to make the festival a true community collaboration.
On Aug. 8, 2013, when the doors opened to welcome more than 500 children, Amber knew that this festival had struck a chord. She watched excited children fill their new book bags and flaunt their fresh haircuts.
When all was said and done, the first festival provided over $40,000 worth of relief to local families, but to Amber, you couldn’t put a price tag on the relief she saw in fellow parents’ eyes as they realized school preparedness would no longer be such a burden.
Now in its third year, the B2SF organizers expect to serve upwards of 1,000 students.
Amber still directs the festival, but other passionate volunteers have joined her efforts and serve on committees to help drive it forward. She’s eager to see what can be done with more hands helping and a division of labor.
Four strong women, Sandra Ruppert, Kendra Sink, Tara White and Laurie Gill, committee chairwoman, have great vision for their specific tasks.
To keep the event successful, local businesses, churches and other groups are asked to donate in three ways: funding, in-kind items, such as supplies, haircuts and other needed services, and/or give their time to create an event that unites the community around its greatest asset — its children.
Two weeks before the last school ended, Watauga children filled collection boxes with unused and gently-used supplies at each school, so all students would have the chance to contribute.
Families, tourists and community members can also help “Pack the Bus.”
Buses will be parked at two locations (between Yadkin Bank and CVS Pharmacy on Hwy. 321 in Boone, and the New Market Branch of Yadkin Bank in Boone.
The community is encouraged to collect supplies all summer and drop them off at these camera-monitored buses between July 4- August 4, as we unite for this event.
In addition, during a purchase at Footsloggers and other select stores, locals and tourists alike can pad a purchase by adding a few dollars toward a backpack for the festival.
Organizers hope that all county students can start school feeling confident and prepared.
The free school supplies room will be flanked by interactive information booths hosted by sponsors and local family-service agencies.
For example, Footsloggers plans a “Bling your Backpack” activity, through which students can personalize their new backpacks.
The locally-owned outdoor gear store is providing financial support for the second year in a row and backpacks for students.
Free haircuts will be provided by local stylists in the high school’s cosmetology department.
Weather permitting, an ASU Astronomy professor will set up solar telescopes to safely view the sun.
Free lunches to-go will be provided by Green Street Catering.
Watauga County Schools will host the event at Watauga High School and many staff members will volunteer to share information about services, such as free and reduced lunch applications, after-school programs, clubs, food bank locations and more.
Bilingual translators will be on hand to help Spanish-speaking families navigate the festival, while learning more about services in our schools and the greater community.
Amber will be happy to speak to your church, community or civic organization to provide more information. Email her at [email protected].
To learn more about the Back 2 School Festival, volunteer, donate or become a major sponsor, visit the website:back2schoolfestival.org.
You can also “like” Quiet Givers and B2SF on Facebook.
To learn more about Quiet Givers, ask to join the FB group or visit them online: quietgivers.org.
This information provided by the Children’s Council of Watauga County.