"The Devil is a lie," said Riverdale Mayor Evelyn Wynn-Dixon. "No one should stop you from accomplishing your dreams."
These words of wisdom were imparted to the scores of young people, who attended the Clayton Center's back-to-school bash, Wednesday afternoon in Riverdale. The event was aimed at helping local families who may be feeling the effects of the downturn in the economy, but still need to make sure their children have the school supplies they need to begin the year.
"This was our first back-to-school bash," said Kathleen O'Longhlin, associate clinical director for the Clayton Center. "Our goal was to provide school supplies, so they [students] can get off to a great start before heading back to school."
Johnnie Watkins, lead clerical worker for the Clayton Center, was one of those responsible for making sure the event got off without a hitch. She said a major part of its success was due to sponsors, community members, and her fellow co-workers, who donated supplies.
"We have a community collaboration with other Clayton County agencies, and they all just came in and supported us," said Watkins. The sponsors, she said, included: Riverwood Apartments, the Atlanta Regional Commission, Big Brothers, and Bright Star. All donated a substantial amount of money, so supplies could be purchased.
"It was just really exciting to see how people cared about this event." said O'Longhlin.
Because of the many community contributions, and the strong support, Watkins said, the center was able to serve nearly 200 youths, of all ages, with bags filled with school supplies.
The event also featured guest speakers, including local dignitaries, members of local law enforcement agencies, parks and recreation representatives, as well as other social-services providers, who offered words of encouragement and inspiration to the young people.
Elijah Wade, 15, who attends Jonesboro High School, said he was grateful to know that people in the community care about his education, and he understands that most people –– because of the economy –– are having difficulty buying school supplies. A problem, he said, is all-too-common to him.
He said he is the eldest of six children, and it can be difficult for his family to purchase all the necessities needed for school. "I think it's really important to have this [event]," he said. "Not all people have the funds to buy supplies."
Despite his family's financial challenges, Wade said, he still remains optimistic. "You just have to get what you can, and I feel like this event met my needs," He said.
O'Longhlin agreed with Wade, and said having to buy supplies can feel like a burden to a lot of families, and it is important to make sure the youths her organization serves have the best opportunities to succeed academically.
"The least we could do is send them back to school prepared to be successful," she said, "and luckily, we did not have to turn anybody away. Being able to see the looks on their faces, when they received their bags of supplies, was very rewarding."
This Saturday several businesses, community organizations, and youth-services agencies in Clayton County will also host back-to-school rallies and gatherings designed to help youngsters get off to a good start at school. They include the following:
• Clayton County Public Schools Homeless Education Department will host a "Back to School Resource Fair," from 10 a.m., to, 1 p.m., Saturday, at 5968 Maddox Road in, Morrow. Call Sonia Davis at (404) 362-8893
• Chick-fil-A will host a "Back-to-School Bash," from 11 a.m., to 2 p.m., Saturday, at First Baptist Church Jonesboro, located at 147 Church Street, in Jonesboro.
• Ambience Hair Studio will host its "Second Annual Festival and Back-To-School" event, from 8 a.m., to 5 p.m., Saturday at 176 Hwy. 138, Bridlewood Plaza, in Riverdale. Call (770) 603-2993.
• Harley Davidson of Clayton County will host "Thunder On The Park," a back-to-school rally, Saturday. For more information, visit: forestparkptsa.org.