Five-year-old Jesus Santacruz and his sister Shamary, 13, browsed a table full of free books at Douglass Park in north Lexington on Saturday. Jesus handed his mother a copy of Falcons Nest on Skyscrapers. Both children soon would collect free backpacks loaded with paper, notebooks and other materials needed for the school year, which begins Aug. 13.
"It helps us to get supplies that we otherwise would not be able to get," said Shamary, who will enter eighth grade at Winburn Middle School.
The YMCA of Central Kentucky sponsored 18 Back to School Rallies around Lexington simultaneously on Saturday, distributing an estimated 8,000 backpacks to children. (Any leftover backpacks will be available at individual schools' family resource offices once classes start). Many rallies also provided food, games and music, turning them into neighborhood parties where school officials could mingle with students and parents.
Rolanda Woolfork, president of the parent-teacher association at Booker T. Washington Intermediate Academy, was asking parents to volunteer at least three hours at the school this school year. Some parents say it's hard to get time off work, Woolfork said, while others had unhappy school experiences and avoid going back, even to visit.
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"We need them in the classroom, helping," Woolfork said. "Our kids want to learn. When you get the parents involved and make it more like one big family, it brings in more enthusiasm."
The National Alliance on Mental Illness handed out information about seeking care for depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and other disorders.
"It's essential for them to know something about mental health," said Evelyn Morton, NAMI Lexington's multicultural outreach coordinator. "There are too many shootings; there is too much bullying. It's imperative that you know what's coming to face you in life. One in four people deal with a mental illness."
Fayette County Schools Superintendent Tom Shelton told the crowd that the Back to School rally was his fourth at Douglass Park.
"It's interesting to me, somebody must have called too many snow days last year. I don't know who that was," Shelton joked, to laughs and groans. "Because this summer seemed really, really short. And getting out in the middle of June, and now here it is in August and we're going back to school."