The Mayor’s “Back-to-School” Fair has grown into A+ event.
For nearly 20,000 disadvantaged students in the Dallas Independent School District, The Mayor’s “Back-to-School” Fair (BTSF) is almost as anticipated as that first day of class. It is full of excitement, from getting free haircuts to earning the right to take home free backpacks. Thanks to numerous sponsors, the Back-to-School Fair provides young people with just about everything needed for a good start. And if the Mayor of Dallas endorses such an event, it’s got to be good.
“I inherited this “Back-to-School” Fair,” said Mayor Laura Miller. “It started long before I was mayor and I will pass it on to the next mayor. In fact, it was started during former Mayor Steve Bartlett’s tenure and has endured because of the great need in our city to lift up families and inspire their kids to stay in school. Although I will no longer be mayor for this year’s fair, I can tell you that it was one of the most enjoyable and fulfilling activities I participated in during my 5 years as mayor.”
Gaytha Davis, an employee of the Office of the Mayor and City Council of Dallas, started it all in 1997, as an idea that might fulfill one of the requirements for a Federal Demonstration Grant. “We set out to host a drug prevention program for parents of middle to high school kids,” she recalled. Friends advised Ms. Davis that she ought to give away some free items to boost attendance. “I was also persuaded by (the late) Charlotte Mayes, then Deputy Mayor Pro Tem, to do the event citywide rather than just for Council District 7.”
Indeed, more than 3,000 children and parents came to the event at Fair Park to receive not only substance abuse prevention materials but immunizations and school supplies. These were donated by private individuals and various health and social service organizations. For example, Children’s Medical Center showed how to recognize and prevent severe asthma; the hospital has continued to do this each year since.
Much more than a one-time success.
“I was elated because our grant request was realized in an exponential way,” said Ms. Davis. “I still figured the BTSF would be a one-time event. But it just kept gaining momentum. We did it the next year, and the next, calling it the Annual Mayor’s “Back-to-School” Fair. The number of sponsors and attendees increased beyond all expectations. The event’s focus was expanded to help reduce the number of students in grades K-12 who do not return to school on time because of a lack of school supplies and health services.”
This year, the BTSF celebrates its 11th anniversary with services, school supplies, and entertainment galore. Just a few of the sponsors and services that make the free event such a class act:
- Ogle School of Hair, Skin and Nails: Hair Cuts
- Baylor College of Dentistry: Free dental screenings and fluoride treatments to help prevent tooth decay
- Wal-Mart, 2007 Title Sponsor: Free eye screenings, childhood obesity awareness information and more
There are also personalities on hand from Radio One 97.9 The Beat and 94.5 FM KSoul, Mavs Man, Univision Radio and Television and other entertainment.
“It’s just amazing because all of these needs services and products are given to these families in one day, all in Fair Park, and all as school is starting a new year. It is the biggest back-to-school fair in the country,” added Mayor Miller.
Picking up the knowledge and the tools to succeed.
Students start at the Centennial Building, where various social and health agencies have booths, and then proceed to the Automobile Building for immunizations. After visiting all these stations and taking advantage of their offerings, students “earn the right” to receive their school supplies. They are given everything except uniforms.
With this kind of overwhelming encouragement from the community—especially the Honorable Laura Miller—the Mayor’s “Back-to-School” Fair has made each fall so much easier for students, parents and teachers. Gaytha Davis has certainly proven that one good idea can go a long way.
For more information about the Mayor’s “Back-to-School” Fair, visit the the Mayor's BTSF web pages.