Thousands crowd UH for Mayor’s Back 2 School Fest
Eager students, kindergartners to fifth graders, rushed into the Athletics/Alumni Center, drowning in fanfare from the Spirit of Houston, to take part in the sixth annual Mayor’s Back 2 School Fest.
The event, which offers free school supplies and other back to school necessities, originated under the tenure of former Mayor Annise Parker. This is the first time since Mayor Sylvester Turner’s inauguration that he’s hosting it.
“Public service is a relay. It’s not a one-person, one-thing race and it’s over, and no one person can do it all,” Turner, who is a UH alumnus, said. “Mayor Annise Parker advanced the ball, I picked up the ball from where she left and I’m going to carry it a little further, and the next person will carry it a little further after I finish.”
Each of the registered students received a backpack and school supplies kit. They could also get a free dental exam, vision check and receive immunizations.
This event also falls under UH Chancellor and President Renu Khator’s overarching initiative to engage with the community surrounding the campus. She said she was excited about providing the young students the opportunities they deserve.
“In these students here you can see a Simone Manuel, you can see a Simone Biles, you can see Mayor Turner, you can see a president of the United States,” Khator said in her opening speech. “We are here to support these students.”
On top of those, they were also offered vouchers for a free haircut, coupons for a visit to the Children’s Museum of Houston and tickets to a men’s basketball game.
“It’s really a great opportunity for us to partner with the city of Houston and education community, especially University of Houston,” Scott Ballard, human resources manager for Shell Oil, said.
Shell has been the main contributor to the event even before it had found its place at UH’s campus.
Several non-profit organizations, including Crime Stoppers, an organization focused on maintaining public safety, and Undies for Everyone, which is dedicated to providing underwear to financially disadvantaged kids, were also present.
This is fourth consecutive year that UH has hosted the event. To keep everything running smoothly, the organizers enlisted the help of hundreds of volunteers from both UH and the larger Houston community.
“For a lot of students, who will probably be first-generation college students, it’s setting a framework for them,” said Susie Molina, director of UH community relations, who has been involved with the annual event since 2013.
This year’s B2SF was focused on health, with organizations such as Delta Dental offering on-the-spot dental check-ups, and Walgreens providing free immunization shots. Mayor Turner set an example to the children by getting a flu shot himself.
UH’s Center for Hearing and Speech therapy and College of Optometry were also on site to offer check-ups, information and resources for future reference.
Tiffany Mills, who brought her four boys to the event, said all the supplies she received made it easier for her to prepare her kids for the start of the semester. She is hopeful about all of them making it through the University.
“I had the opportunity, but I got off-track – hopefully I can further my own education so I could do better for them,” Mills said.