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Lexington students rally back to school

Jamaya Sweat, 5, took a backpack from Ashley Valerius, a Spanish instructor at Lafayette High School, during the fifth annual back-to-school rally at Duncan Park Saturday morning.
Jamaya Sweat, 5, took a backpack from Ashley Valerius, a Spanish instructor at Lafayette High School, during the fifth annual back-to-school rally at Duncan Park Saturday morning. Lexington Herald-Leader

Kaan Celik, 11, didn't waste any time seeing what was in the free backpack he received Saturday at a back-to-school rally at Duncan Park.

Plopping down on the lawn off North Limestone Street, Kaan, who will attend Lexington Traditional Magnet School, opened the blue backpack and did an inventory of its contents.

"A calculator, notebooks, a ring binder, colored pencils, some regular pencils, a pen," Kaan said, pulling each item out. "I have almost everything."

His mother, Muge Celik, said the rally — one of 21 held at parks, churches and community centers around Fayette County — will reduce the stress in preparing her son for the start of classes on Wednesday.

"At least now I know what I'm missing and I can go shop," Muge Celik said.

This was the fifth year that LexLinc — a partnership of citizens, government services and agencies — hosted back-to-school rallies in neighborhoods. The rallies distribute supplies and backpacks to 8,000 elementary, middle and high school students.

"When I was younger, we didn't have this, and we couldn't afford a lot of stuff," said Bobby Wilkerson, who took his granddaughter, first-grader Jadyn Perkins, to the Duncan Park rally. "For people to get a backpack nowadays is a whole lot."

Because of funding cuts, this will be the last year that LexLinc will hold the rallies, said Wanda Bertram, director of the public-private partnership. She said other community organizations have expressed interest in organizing the rallies next year.

Fayette County Schools Superintendent Stu Silberman said United Way of the Bluegrass is one organization interested in seeing the rallies continue.

"It's just great for our kids," Silberman said of the rallies. "It levels that playing field on that first day for all kids walking into school."

Families of any income level were welcome to receive supplies, said Catherine Warner, coordinator of the rallies. "We try to stay away from making anybody feel inferior or superior," she said.

Warner said the events are held at neighborhood sites "because we want to make sure the schools come to the community that they're serving. That is real important to begin relationships with the children and the parents. The concept is to build relationships."

In addition to games and refreshments, the Duncan Park rally offered dental screenings to children through a mobile unit of the University of Kentucky College of Dentistry.

Zayvion Smith, 6, who will enter first grade, proudly held up a new toothbrush given to him after his checkup.

"He likes the dentist," said Zayvion's mother, Fredericka Buchanan. "He's got some new teeth coming in."

On Lexington's north side, Russell Cave Church of Christ anticipated that 500 to 600 students would be served by the rally there. Church member and rally volunteer Anthony Berry said the demand for supplies has grown over the years.

"With a lot of people losing their jobs this year and the economy being so tight, people are taking advantage of this," Berry said.

Charity Brooks said she appreciates the help that the rally provides for her family.

"I've got four kids in school and I'm a single mother, so it helps out a lot," she said.

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