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Events get students fired up for school
Slam Fest, Rally offer fun, games and free school supplies
Jonlyn Forest, 5, completes a statement Saturday declaring she will stay away from drugs and commit to graduation from high school while she visits the Georgia Mountains Center.

Kids geared up for the new school year Saturday with entertainment, games and free school supply giveaways at two events in Gainesville.

Both had one goal in common: to get kids excited about returning to class this week and to keep them in school.

"All of this is targeted to keep kids in school," said Carol Williams of the United Way of Hall County. "Our goal is to provide them with the necessary tools they need to stay in school."

One event was the Grady Young Foundation Inc.’s second annual Back-to-School Slam Fest held at Gainesville High School’s gymnasium. The other was the Back to School Rally 2009 put on by the Beulah Rucker Museum, the United Way of Hall County and the Drug Free Coalition of Hall County at the Georgia Mountains Center.

The Slam Fest included many different basketball competitions, including a slam dunk contest, three-point shoot out and shooting stars competition. There was also a school spirit competition for teams, cheerleaders and students who came out to represent their high schools.

A cash prize went the student government of the school that showed the most spirit. School supplies, including bookbags and new shoes, were given out on first-come, first-served basis.

"It is something to give them sort of a boost to get them excited about the school year," said Charles Young, chairman of the Grady Young Foundation. "This is a kickoff."

The Grady Young Foundation is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide both spiritual and financial support to the communities of Gainesville and Hall County. It offers scholarships, volunteer activities and services and community events.

Young said that the Grady Young Foundation plans to continue holding a back-to-school event each year. "We want to have at least something," Young said.

The Back to School Rally included games, live entertainment by rappers and other musicians, and appearances by local high school cheerleaders and bands.

There were several information booths on colleges and after-school programs, hula-hoop challenges, a back-to-school fashion show and DJ’s from radio station 95.5-FM The Beat on hand. There also were seminars for parents on communication with children and Internet safety. A raffle for teachers offered free supplies.

Bruce Quiggle from BB&T, a rally sponsor, said it was part of the company’s "Lighthouse Project."

"The idea is to be a good community partner especially in times like these," Quiggle said.

More than 600 children were given school supplies in the first annual Stuff the Bus program at the rally. The United Way campaign had local companies provide students’ school needs. "People were here at 8 a.m. this morning looking for it," said Quiggle. "We had to make it first-come, first-serve."

Huge groups of families came as soon as the rally started, and the supplies were handed out quickly. "We are planning to do our best to keep it an annual event," said Quiggle of the back to school rally.