Project Reach GANG’s back-to-school rally Saturday in Briar Bay Park drew more than 1,500 attendees to whom 800 lunches were served, said Lavonia LeCounte, founder of the youth organization.
Project Reach GANG has sponsored a back-to-school rally in the Riceboro area for more than 14 years. This year’s rally theme was “No More Excuses, Education and Application Equal Success. Let’s Excel in 2012.”
In addition to handing out free school supplies, LeCounte said one of the rally’s purposes is to emphasize the need for parental involvement in children’s lives. LeCounte, a Lyman Hall Elementary parental involvement coordinator who has been in education for more than 21 years, said, “Parents need to make the effort.”
“If you can take time off from work to go to the doctor, then you can take off to visit your child’s teachers to see what they require,” she said.
LeCounte also urged parents to contribute programming ideas for children in their families and communities by participating in “I-CARE,” a new program in which Project Reach GANG is involved. “I-CARE” is a character-building program that allows parents to voice their opinions on the kinds of programs they want for their children. Current programming is not working, LeCounte said.
Liberty County Board of Education Chairwoman Lily Baker urged parents at the rally to talk to their children.
“If we expect great things from our children, then they will want to do great things,” she said. She added that events like the rally promote values such as achievement and respect.
Eboine Frazier, a member of Project Reach GANG encouraged students to “study more, read more and play less.”
3rd Infantry Division Lt. Mark McCollum of the 4-3 Brigade Special Troops Battalion was the event’s guest speaker. McCollum, the son of a high school math teacher, said rallies and other organized functions show gratitude for teachers.
“No one gets anywhere in life by themselves. It’s because someone helped them. Someone lifted them up,” McCollum said. Teachers are important because “they see and believe in a child’s potential.”
Button Gwinnett Elementary fifth-grader Adrian Turner enjoyed exploring the rally’s exhibits and attractions.
“Yes, it’s fun. I would stay here all day,” she said.
“She likes the show and that it allows kids to enjoy themselves and get free school supplies,” said Lateesha Reynolds of Hinesville.
Virginia Springer, also of Hinesville, who brought her grandchildren, said such events “energize” children.
In addition to various military-sponsored activities, attendees enjoyed dance performances, music acts and several demonstrations. Amari Joseph, an 11th-grader at Bradwell Institute, said “The karate demonstration showed the importance of self-discipline.”
LeCounte said she always has received plenty of community support. She doesn’t pay a space fee for the park and, in turn, doesn’t charge the booth participants. This year, 56 booth participants set up shop. Keep Liberty Beautiful representative Bianca Smith said it’s important to give out free school supplies because many parents can’t afford them.
LeCounte also said Pastor Richard Sheffield of Riceboro Church of God, the church where Project Reach (G.A.N.G.) meets, has never charged her. Her youth organization is not like any other youth organizations, she said. “It’s not a church. It’s a way for the community to come together and do something positive,” she added.
Several public officials, such as State Rep. Al Williams, D-Midway, Riceboro Mayor Bill Austin and Mayor Pro Tem Tommy Williams, made appearances at the rally and pledged their continued support of Project Reach GANG.