Back to School Health Fair prepares children, families for new year

Saturday, August 10, 2013 | 5:13 p.m. CDT; updated 5:52 p.m. CDT, Saturday, August 10, 2013
Children were weighed, measured and underwent a variety of medical tests at Boone Hospital Center on Saturday at the Back to School Health Fair hosted by the Voluntary Action Center and Healthcare USA.

COLUMBIA — Jayze Dunnington, 8, laments that a summer of Chuck E. Cheese's visits will be traded for days in his third-grade classroom, but he brightens when he talks about math and computers.

He and his sister, Lydia Bishop, 5, are beginning their first full year at Blue Ridge Elementary School after moving from Hannibal. Their mother, April Dunnington, helped them get ready by taking them to the seventh annual Back to School Health Fair on Saturday morning.

Hosted by Voluntary Action Center and HealthCare USA, the fair allowed families with children in school to take advantage of free health screenings and school supplies. While the activities center, at 606 Ridgeway Ave., offered a buffet of scissors, pencils, notebook paper and other back-to-school essentials, the main building across the parking lot set up mobile health, vision, dental and hearing screenings for 522 children.

“I want to make sure they have everything they need,” April Dunnington said. “Getting them supplies can help get them boosted and ready for school, slowly but surely.”

The Dunnington family was just one group in a line that wrapped around the corner of the red-brick Calvary Baptist Church activities building, obscuring the entrance to the Health Fair.

Church volunteer Leanna Clayton handed out numbers to help move families through the line, a tactic she developed after six years helping at the fair. “It takes a lot of coordinating to get everyone through,” she said.

“Ask any parent getting ready to send their kids back to school, it’s expensive. All you have to do is look at the school supplies list at stores. The cost can add up quickly,” said Nick Foster, Voluntary Action Center executive director. “A lot of families are having a hard time getting by day to day.”

If families braved the snaking line of 18 community and health vendors handing out supplies, a full bingo card with representative signatures from organizations including Boy Scouts of America and Central Missouri Physicians for Women earned them the final piece to their school supplies set: a pink, green, blue or orange backpack.

But getting ready for school is more than a fresh set of pencils. Licensed cosmetologist Beth Worley turned a section of the activity center into a salon elevated on the chest-high stage. Her mother, Sharon Clasby, sat in front of the stage directing children to the makeshift waiting room.

While her daughter was busy with clippers, Clasby spoke of the importance of community outreach.

“This isn’t even her day job,” Clasby said. “This is just her giving time back to the community. Hopefully she can raise some self-esteems before the first day of school.”

While stuffing white bags of popcorn, Renee Hendrickson, the community relations specialist for HealthCare USA, explained that the school supplies service was added on in subsequent years.

“We want to serve the children first,” Hendrickson said. “Our goal is to make sure children start school healthy.”

Families who were unable to attend the fair can pick up school essentials starting Monday at the Voluntary Action Center, 403A Vandiver Drive, until supplies run out. The center recommends calling the center at 874-2273 beforehand.

Supervising editor is Shaina Cavazos.

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