Monroe Family Resource Network hands out over 300 backpacks for back to school

By Jeffrey Kanode, for RealWV

Canopied booths sheltering tables filled with brochures of information, and a fun bounce houses echoing the laughter of children dotted the entrance of James Monroe High School recently for the Back to School Agency Fair.  All families with children in Monroe County Schools were invited to attend the event which included complimentary vision checks, haircuts, backpacks, school supplies, books, and dinner.  Parents and guardians could also check their child’s immunization record, register to vote, and listen to a presentation about addiction recovery.

 April Ernst, the board president of the Family Resource Network (FRN), organized the Monroe County Back to School Agency Fair. Photo by Jeffrey Kanode, RealWV.

According to April Ernst, the board president of the Family Resource Network (FRN) and the Monroe County Coalition for Children and Families, this marked the sixth year for the event. “It started in an effort to bring as many agencies together to help families prepare for school,” she said. “We wanted to gather everyone in one place.”

In addition to many social service agencies, civic groups like the local chapters of Rotary, the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) also came out and helped. The Rotary and VVA provided the free hotdog suppers to children and their families. “Those guys are super. We couldn’t do it without them,” Ernst noted.

Beth Massey, the Monroe County Health Department Threat Preparedness Coordinator was on hand giving out cold water. She marveled at the number of services involved in making the event so vital to the community.  “We have our sanitarian here giving out icepacks for kids’ lunch boxes, to keep their food and drinks fresh.  We have the Birth to Kindergarten program here. We have agencies here from all types of services. We’re here to help people see what programs and services are available to help their families.”

Derek Wilson offered words of hope for recovery for those battling addiction. Photo by Jeffrey Kanode, RealWV.

The addiction recovery presentation featured Dr. Derek Wilson, a counselor from New Beginnings Therapy in Princeton. Wilson reflected on the many reasons why people fall into addiction, including a vain attempt to cope with anxiety, depression, and stress. “We are living in a society where people are hurting. We have resources, but so many people are afraid to reach out. They have a desire to get clean, but they encounter so much fighting against it”

Wilson told listeners about a recent counseling session he offered a homeless couple he met who were living in a tent.  “I told them that if you are alive, God has a purpose for you. If you are alive, there is hope.  I believe there is an opportunity for recovery for everyone. It takes work,” he said.

Although an exact number cannot be ascertained yet of how many children and families participated, Ernst reports that the Back to School Agency Fair gave out three hundred backpacks full of school supplies. Those children could also choose from a variety of books to take home in those backpacks, in addition to all the other services available.

In between giving out cold bottles of water to a couple of elementary aged sisters, Beth Massey looked around, and shook her head in apparent wonder. “It’s an amazing event. I’ve been in education thirty-five years and I’ve never seen anything like it,” she said. “It’s amazing how the community comes together to make sure our kids get what they need.”

Brothers Luke and Levi Grimmet flash smiles while they carry their new backpacks. Photo by Jeffrey Kanode, RealWV.

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