By Jennifer L. Warren
NEWBURGH – Hassan Mejia could not take his eyes off of the brand new pair of catchy yellow, black and light blue sneakers with nifty orange laces housed inside the clear bag he was proudly holding. Meanwhile, Ayliana Lawyea was wearing a wide smile as she located her favorite color, blue, knapsack just sitting there on the table for her to select.
These moments of sheer joy, getting City of Newburgh students prepared for and excited about the upcoming school year, could be spotted outside of 136 South Street Saturday afternoon. Thanks to the efforts of the not-for-profit organization indoors, M.A.R.C.S Friends Youth & Community Outreach Center, along with the generous contributions of an extensive number of local businesses as well as individuals, the highly successful inaugural event was able to provide over 250 book bags and 100 pairs of sneakers to children, getting their 2023-2024 school year’s off to a positive start, guided by empowering community support.
“I got a lot of really good school supplies inside of this bag,” said an eager Lawyea, who will be entering the 5th grade at the New Windsor School next month. “I’m going to do my best to put them all to use, and it will definitely make going back to school much easier.”
The snazzy footwear will also ease Mejia’s start to second grade.
“I want to use them for basketball and playing beach ball,” said an elated Mejia, who was also quick to cite how much fun he had at the bouncy house and 360 photo booth at Saturday’s event.
It’s that special love, unwavering support and critical guidance of children that has become the overriding mission of Jamika Hall, who leads M.A.R.C.S. Friends in memory of her son whose life was senselessly lost at age 17 to gun violence. That overriding mantra is captured in Proverbs 22:6, quoted in black letters on the large white banner that extends above the outside doors of her office space.
“Train a child up in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”
Setting the bar high, having expectations, making children believe in themselves and their communities, becoming examples for bettering themselves…..it’s all part of removing stifling stigmas, reducing-eliminating violence, having the basic necessities to have a fair chance at success, and setting a precedent for a better, more hopeful future. It’s everything to Hall, and events like Saturday’s are just one of the many bricks in that priceless, solid children’s foundation-building process she is determined to create. Anything less than giving a full-fledged commitment to that end is not an option.
“No matter what circumstances we face in life, EVERY CHILD should feel equal to his peers and return to school with a fresh pair of sneakers and a decent backpack.”
In addition to M.A.R.C.S Friends making Saturday’s Back to School event a reality with their business locale for kids to select their contributed book bags and sneakers, some of the other providers of the sneakers included; Y.I.T. Foundation, Orange County VIP Pearls, Cream Puffs Smoke Shop, Don Don and Solid Expressions. Back packs were secured by Y.I.T., Cherie’s Crafting Corner and Telly’s Smokeshop; while Souljies Supermarkets provided needed supplies for the day’s activities. A $1000 donation also came from the Newburgh City Council fund for community events which was used toward two integral parts of the day: the porta potties and bouncy house. Further on-hands support was shown by council members Omari Shakur and Giselle Martinez; Anthony Grice had to attend another event but sent his regards for a successful day. Mayor Torrance Harvey and Manager Todd Venning were also on hand, all showing youth they are behind them one hundred percent in helping ensure an amazing start to the new school year.