LAURINBURG — The Back-to-School, Stay in School event began in 2000 as modest affair in a church fellowship hall to help needy students.
The project has since grown from providing school supplies to a couple hundred students to assisting thousands of young people not only in Scotland, but Hoke and Robeson counties too.
State Rep. Garland Pierce helped shepherd the project into existence as president — at the time — of the Scotland County branch of the NAACP.
This year’s event will be held Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon at the new gym at Scotland High School.
“It is a great program that has really had an impact on a lot of people,” Pierce said on Tuesday.
The first Back-to-School, Stay in School event was held at the church where Pierce serves as pastor — Bright Hopewell Baptist Church.
“We began that year with about 300 students and now there are more than 1,000 students that come out each year,” Pierce said. “The kids and the parents look forward to it.”
According to Pierce, the goal was to help make sure low-income students could “start off the school year right.”
“There are parents out there that can’t afford to buy the supplies they need and this effort helps with that,” Pierce said. “We also saw it as a back-to-school rally for students to encourage them to do well in school and to stay in school.
The thinking was that students may do better in school if they know there are people that care about them.”
Pierce said the Scotland County NAACP, which continues to coordinate the event, also helped branches in Robeson and Hoke start their own back-to-school efforts.
“The program in those other counties have really taken off,” he said. “Before that there had been no back-to-school programs to my knowledge. Now the NAACP in Hoke County partners with the school system there and in Robeson, the school system has taken over hosting the event. But the genesis for all that started here.”
Pierce said United Parcel Service was the first company to donate to the project. The shipping business gave $2,500. He said numerous other local businesses have chipped in over the years to help with money or supplies.
John Lyon, AT&T’s regional director of external affairs, said Pierce “peaked” his company’s interest in the event. As a result, At&T has given $2,000 to the event each year since 2007.
“AT&T is very much interested in programs that have an impact in helping prevent school drop outs,” Lyons said. “We think this program does that by providing school supplies so these students have the tools they need from day one.”
Lyon plans to present a check to NAACP officials during the program on Saturday.
“It is all about preparing these students in the lower grades to do well,” he said. “If we can keep them in school and help them do well in school, we can instill long-term success.”
Other businesses and agencies have donated their time to help the NAACP project. The Scotland County Sheriff’s Office is holding a “Stuff a Cruiser” school supply drive this week to collect supplies to be donated on Saturday.
The drive will continue today in front of the Dollar Tree from noon to 5 p.m. The Dollar Tree is located at the Harris Teeter shopping center at 1686 S Main St. in Laurinburg.
The effort will continue on Friday at the Laurinburg After Five at the Morgan Complex from 6-9 p.m. Supplies and monetary donations will also be accepted from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. throughout the week at the sheriff’s office.
“We’re trying to get as many donations and school supplies as possible so we can help children from Scotland County,” said Rebecca Riggs, administrative assistant to Sheriff Ralph Kersey.
Riggs and Anne Griffin, a sheriff’s lieutenant over the county school resource officers, spent four hours Saturday taking supplies and donation in the Walmart parking lot. During the 90-minutes, the department had already collected $70 in cash and shopping cart nearly brimming with book bags, paper, pencils, notebooks, and other supplies.
“People have been great,” Griffin said. “What they don’t realize is even the small of donations makes a difference. Someone walked up and gave us a pack of 15 pencil erasers. That means five students can have three erasers in their bag. Every little bit helps.”
For information, about the NAACP Back-to-School, Stay in School, call 910-277-8890.
Reach Scott Witten at 910-506-3023