NEW ALBANY — As summer break winds down in Southern Indiana, community organizations are coming together to alleviate families' back-to-school worries.
The New Albany Housing Authority presented its second annual Back to School Bash on Thursday at its 300 Erni Ave. gym. The resource fair featured a variety of free services for the community, including haircuts, backpacks, sports physical exams and eye exams. A variety of local organizations, including many social service agencies, set up tables at the event.
"What we are really trying to do is give an opportunity for our kids to get fired up about school," NAHA director David Duggins said. "The thought was, if you're excited about the first day of school, that sets your school year off on the right path, and success follows that. The thought process was, you're going to get a fresh haircut, new backpack and sign up for a lot of things and know what's going on."
Duggins said he wanted to provide a fun day that would alleviate family's back-to-school worries. He estimated that the participation in this year's Back to School Bash doubled from last year — Hope Southern Indiana gave out about 500 free backpacks this year, and as of about 3 p.m., LifeSpring had provided about 20 free sports physical exams.
Everyone seemed excited about the event, he said.
"Kids got superhero backpacks, and the kids were really fired up about that," he said.
Quinnesha Shemwell's 5-year-old son is about to begin kindergarten, and he picked out a new backpack at the Back to School Bash. They live in New Albany Housing Authority's public housing, and she appreciates the opportunity to lessen expenses as they head into the school year.
"It's amazing," she said. "I love it. It's great that they do this to help others."
Alondra Carlos, 14, attended the event with her mother, Wendy Mateo. In addition to a free backpack, she received a free sports physical from LifeSpring at the event. The New Albany High School student is planning to play volleyball and try out for the cheer team this year.
"We don't have a lot of money, and I don't want [my mom] to spend a lot of money on me," Carlos said.
New Albany resident Natassjia Sheffey attended the Back to School Bash with her son, Conya Robinson, so he could receive a haircut. She was excited to see the free service offered at the event, and she didn't mind waiting about 40 minutes for the haircut.
"I know that this helps a lot of people and a lot of families," she said. "I see all the kids walking around with their backpacks and stickers, and they're getting eye exams and physicals. I know that means a lot to the families who might not know where to go or not have the time. They might feel stressed, especially if they have a lot of children. It really helps."
One of the tables at the event included information about On My Way Pre-K, a statewide program that allows eligible low-income families to receive preschool vouchers. Erica Woodward, project manager for On My Way Pre-K, said she was able to sign up a mom for the program at Thursday's event.
"She said she could not afford preschool for her child, so her child wasn't going to go, and we were able to sign the child up onsite today," she said. "And if it hadn't been for that event, we might not have found the child, and that child might not be attending Pre-K. School is starting, and this was a perfect fit today."
Tyler Shaheen, assistant director at Hope Southern Indiana, said the nonprofit was happy to offset the costs of backpacks for so many families at the Back to School Bash. He saw plenty of happy faces Thursday as kids picked out their own backpacks.
Some families absolutely cannot afford a backpack, he said, and many families stress about the cumulative expenses of school supplies.
"We want to help people realize that it's OK to struggle, and many people are going through similar situations," he said. "[We want] to just relieve the stress and get everyone's mind off the struggle of paying for things to go back to school and to help them find excitement and joy in the event in general."