By Jennifer L. Warren
NEWBURGH – Evelyn Laureano was proudly clutching her brand new powder blue, rainbow unicorn decorated back pack, filled with a host of surprise school supplies inside and smiling wide Saturday afternoon as she held her mother’s hand and eagerly checked out the assortment of booths that filled the City of Newburgh’s Grand Street.
The soon-to-be third grader, who was further joined by her rising first grade brother, Santiago, was quick to express her excitement over the well-attended, community event, School is Cool: A Back to School Celebration.
“I love my new back pack; it’s so pretty,” said Laureano. “I’m really excited to open it up when I get home and see what’s inside, and I’m having a lot of fun today getting ready for school.”
That eagerness for the approaching school year was the exact intent of the day, a multifaceted, community effort, involving the Newburgh Enlarged City School District, Newburgh Free Library as well as multiple community-based organizations including; Planned Parenthood of Greater New York, Headstart, the Desmond Center, Fidelis Care, Newburgh Urban Farm Food Initiative and many others. Whether they were there to supply book bags, fun children’s activities, food samples, priceless information or just simply a smile along with wishes for a successful school year, each organization was zoned-in on supporting the youth.
“I’m here today to support the community,” said Deborah Danzy of Planned Parenthood of Greater New York, who was distributing backpacks, pencils, facemasks and tee-shirts. “I just really enjoy working with and being an asset to the people in Newburgh.”
NAACP Newburgh Highland Falls also expressed their desire to be a beneficial community resource. Providing literature and a strong presence, they wanted all who stopped by to know they were an active cornerstone of the community who wanted to share their knowledge and expertise.
“We are here to support the community in any way we can and are definitely pro-education,” explained Kyle Conway, First Vice President of Branch #2162 as well as a fifth grade teacher at Balmville Elementary School. “We want to be a resource and tool to help protect peoples’ constitutional rights; we need to make activism cool again.”
Another laser-focused community agency, We are Newburgh, who teamed up with Healey Brothers Kia, was also very busy handing out a wide assortment of color and theme-decorated book bags to appreciative youth of all ages.
“It’s always so nice to give back, and a real pleasure to serve the community,” said Joe Alvarez, who could be seen positively interacting with guests throughout the afternoon. “If you want to be better, do better.”
One of the grateful recipients of those We are Newburgh Book Bags was Newburgh Free Academy Main Campus junior, Iyana Lynch, herself involved in the community group, “Operation Smile,” whose mission is centered upon seeing more in life everywhere. Lynch was happy to have her community support behind her as the school year kicks off next month.
“It’s really nice to be with the community before returning to school,” said Lynch, who was spending the day at the event with fellow Main Campus junior, Liz Prado. “I’m so grateful for all of this right here.”
Prado, also involved in “Operation Smile” and very involved in her Newburgh community, uttered similar sentiments about the uplifting afternoon.
“This is a really exciting way to get ready for the first day of school and spend time with the community,” said Prado.
Also included on the schedule of fun events were a hamburger and hot dog lunch, music and dancing. Kofi Donkor & the Sankofa Ensemble, African Dancing and Drumming entertained crowds in front of the Newburgh Free Library. Here families could be seen smiling, relaxing and absorbing every bit of the afternoon, aimed at showing Newburgh youth just how much the community is behind and excited for them as they prepare to return to school.