Project Reach God’s Anointed Now Generation Inc. hosted the 16th annual Back to School Rally on Saturday at Riceboro’s community center gym.
Guest speakers included Riceboro Mayor William Austin, Sheriff Steve Sikes, Superintendent Dr. Valya Lee, Lt. Col. David Sentell, Liberty County Commission Chairman Donald Lovette and District 1 Board of Education member Verdell Jones.
The event had a last-minute change of venue. It was supposed to take place at Briar Bay Park, but weather and muddy conditions early Saturday called for holding it indoors.
Dozens of cars were diverted from the park on Barrington Ferry Road into Riceboro.
Cars and pickups filled the parking and overflow areas at the fire department and community center up to the roadside of Highway 17.
In addition to agreeing on the importance of a quality education, each speaker praised Lavonia LeCounte, founder and director of Project Reach G.A.N.G. Inc., for her service to the community and for organizing the rally.
LeCounte’s theme for this year’s event was the acronym REACH — Round up our youth; Educate our youth; Activate the gifts and talents that are locked on the inside of them; Challenge our youth to be the very best they can be; and Honor: Teach them to honor God, their parents, instructors and, most of all, themselves.
About 45 churches, businesses and civic organizations participated in this year’s rally, which was part church service and part pep rally. Among these were the Liberty County Emergency Services, Riceboro Fire Department, Peach State Health Plan, United Way of the Coastal Empire, SNF Chemtall, Georgia Forestry and the Liberty County Family Connection.
Lee told parents, students and guests that it’s those students who aspire to excel who inspire her. She said her theme for the coming school year was “One team, One Direction, Full Steam Ahead,” and everyone who supports quality education was invited to “get on board.”
”With one team and one direction — because you can only go in one direction— we all will be able to move our schools ahead,” said Lee, who then talked about the school system’s plan to provide iPads for every student. “I want our students to excel academically, physically, spiritually and emotionally ... Here’s to a great start to a great school year.”
Sentell, a battalion commander with the 4th Infantry Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, told everyone that a good, basic education is essential in developing new leaders. He said it is imperative that parents and community leaders encourage students to “stay the course,” stay in school and learn.
“Education is the foundation for building our future leaders,” he said.
Lovette said the students, parents and educators have to work together and be “Liberty County proud.” Then, directing his attention to students, he said they have to have “the urge, that inner desire” to learn.
He told parents and community leaders that when businesses and industries consider relocating to Liberty County, one of the things they look at is the education level of its possible workforce.
Jones, the keynote speaker, said she’s attended all the previous rallies but one and was humbled to be asked to speak at this year’s rally. Jones agreed with those who spoke before her and praised Lee for the changes she had brought to the Liberty County School System.
She then spoke to the parents, telling them they need to help educators by ensuring their children come to school ready to learn. To do that, she said, children need to get a good night’s rest.
“I want people to know a mind is still a terrible thing to waste,” Jones said. “I want people to know that what you don’t know can hurt you ... We mean business about educating our children. We want to make sure every child in Liberty County receives a quality education.”
Following her remarks, parents and students were allowed to visit the information booths of those groups participating in this year’s event. They also were treated to lunch, which included hamburgers, hot dogs and barbecue chicken and ribs.