Food, fun and school supplies at Back to School fair

Published 3:10 pm Saturday, August 13, 2016

The beginning of a new school year is right around the corner and the Willie Carter Outreach Center and its community partners want to make sure all students have the tools necessary for a successful year.

The groups hosted the 16th Annual Back to School fair at Carl Parker Multipurpose Center on the Lamar State College-Port Arthur’s campus Saturday.

Hundreds of students and their families filled the center where they heard words of encouragement from Port Arthur Independent School District Superintendent Mark Porterie and from Port Arthur native and Houston resident Don Freeman of Freeminstrel Corp. among others.

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“Port Arthur might not be what you want it to be but you can make it what you want it to be,” Freeman said.

Freeman recently toured downtown Port Arthur and was dismayed at the sight. He would like to see growth and development in the once busy area as well as stopping the flight of residents to other cities.

“When people graduate they instantly go to Beaumont or elsewhere for better pastures,” he said. “I think the better pastures are here.”

He said he’s like to see the downtown area built up like the area around Central Mall with the former Hotel Sabine designated as a historic spot. He was at the event on Saturday not for money but for encouragement to others.

Community organizations on site distributing school supplies included local civic and social clubs, church groups, health organizations and a motorcycle club. Tables were set up along a path inside the gym area at the Parker Center allowing quick access to supplies as well as free drinks and snacks.

Michelle garner was on hand with daughters Ardaijah Watkins, who is entering ninth grade, and Dayonna Watkins, who is going to the third grade. Watkins said she liked the event.

Markies Hunter, or “King Kies” and Jason “Boss” Augustine of the Crown Kings-Golden Triangle Texas Motorcycle Club were among several members who helped direct families through the lines and pass out supplies.

“We do a lot of community events; Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, school supplies, anything we can do to help the community. We help the elderly, battered women. We make a lot of noise not just on our motorcycles,” Hunter, club vice-president and CEO, said. “If people see a motorcycle club is willing to get out and make a positive impact to the community, what does that say?”

Johnny Hulin, executive director of the Willie Carter Outreach Center and organizer of the event for the past 16 years, said the event started out helping about 50 kids and now that number is up to around 1,500.

“This is our way to get as many kids as possible ready to go to school with the same kind of school supplies their classmates have,” Hulin said. “What always gets me is that we used to have to send kids to a special room for their supplies and other kids knew this, then there’s the stigma even before school starts.”

One of the things that impressed Hulin is a renewed interest of civic and social clubs taking part in their community through the event. The clubs, he said, targets ages 25 to 45 and shows students that his is what you are supposed to do for your community.

The renewed interest of community groups also helps change a stigma that black men are not there for their brothers and sons and others.

“You can still be a real man and attend functions and help the community,” he said.

PAISD’s new school year begins on Aug. 22.

Mary Meaux; 409-721-2429

Twitter: @MaryMeauxPANews