Back to School Fair preps families for September

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  • Entrepreneurial Jake Yaskovic hands customer Karina Cinto a snow cone at Project Self-Sufficiency's 30th Annual Back to School Fair

  • The Felix sisters get their hair done. Professional stylists from several area salons volunteered their time for the Back to School Fair

By Laurie Gordon

— It's the end of August, and that means that students and parents are preparing for the start of school. But some families don't have the means to afford some important items or access to some important tips. That's where Project Self-Sufficiency comes in, with its 30th annual Back to School Fair last Thursday.

“Project Self-Sufficiency recently celebrated its 30th anniversary, and the Back to School Fair has been in existence for most of that time,” said Deborah Berry-Toon, Project Self-Sufficiency's Executive Director. “The fair was launched after we noticed that many local families needed assistance to prepare for the new school year.”

She said that the Fair was open to active Project Self-Sufficiency participants and their children.

“The fair is a true community-wide effort,” Berry-Toon said. “Local social service and healthcare organizations are encouraged to offer resources to parents each year. In addition, emergency responders are always on hand to educate parents and children about household safety and first aid. This year, we were fortunate to have members of Newton’s emergency response team as well as a K-9 presentation by the Sussex County Sheriff’s department.”

There was a lot to offer in the different buildings at the sprawling Newton Project Self-Sufficiency campus.

“Workshops for parents are important components of the Back-to-School Fair; this year, topics included educational resources for families with special needs’ children, navigating the morning routine, and activities available at the local library,” said Berry-Toon. “Haircuts are offered to children by stylists from local salons who volunteer their time, and new backpacks filled with school supplies are available to all children who attend the event.”

Berry-Toon said the significance of the Back to School Fair for parents and children extends beyond the ability to receive free backpacks and school supplies.

"The workshops help parents to learn about resources available in the school system and the community," she said. "The haircuts help kids to feel better about themselves. Most importantly, the support offered here tells parents that the health and well-being of their families matter to the community. We want them to succeed, not just at school but in their lives outside of the school walls." The Fair is hosted by the Sussex County Family Success Center at Project Self-Sufficiency, and it's purpose is to prepare the entire family for a successful academic year. The event featured workshops about successful morning routines, educational resources for special needs children, library programs, and a K-9 demonstration by the Sussex County Sheriff’s Department.

Children were invited to play games and receive free haircuts and backpacks filled with school supplies. Representatives from local social service and health care organizations were on hand to offer patrons additional resources. Agency staff members and volunteers played games and provided refreshments. Music was provided by the Bill Wright School of Music. Sussex County Library staff members, along with volunteers recruited by Sussex Macaroni Kid, coordinated craft projects with young children.

In addition to dinner, raffles and activities for children, the Back to School Fair featured informative, break-out sessions for parents. Parenting expert Kris Imbrie identified strategies for successfully navigating morning routines. Early literacy tips for parents and children were highlighted by Sussex County Library personnel. Project Sussex Kids Advisory Board members Kathy Nauta and Ria Smith discussed educational resources and navigating the concerns of childhood for parents of children with special needs.

Participating social service and health care organizations included Caring Partners; Center for Prevention & Counseling; DASI; DAWN Center for Independent Living; Division of Child Protection and Permanency; Family Partners of Morris & Sussex; Ginnie’s House; Girl Scouts of Northern New Jersey; Family Intervention Services; League of Women’s Voters of Sussex Highlands; Legal Services of Northwest New Jersey; Literacy NJ Sussex County Programs; Newton Medical Center; NJ CEED/Office of Public Health Nursing; NORWESCAP; Partnership for Maternal and Child Health; Project Self-Sufficiency; Peace by Piece, NJ Inc.; SCARC; Shop Rite Nutrition Services; Sussex County Division of Health/Sussex Warren Chronic Disease Coalition; Sussex County Division of Social; Sussex County Office of Public Health Nursing; Services; Sussex County Library; Sussex Macaroni Kids; Zufall Health Center; and others.

Professional stylists from several area salons volunteered their time to offer the very popular free haircuts to students. Participating salons included Becky’s Hair Therapy; His ‘n’ Hair; Oasis Salon; Scissor Joint; and The Village Mane.

“We are grateful for the graciousness, patience and enthusiasm of the stylists who volunteer to cut hair at the Back-to-School fair,” Berry-Toon said. “The children look beautiful, and the parents are delighted because the service is free and available to their families each year at the fair.”

The Fair brought plenty of smiles, some great education and served as a sort of pep rally to get ready to hit those books.

Project Self-Sufficiency is a non-profit agency that has served northwestern New Jersey families for more than 30 years. The agency offers a broad spectrum of holistic, respectful, and comprehensive services enabling low-income single parents, teen parents, two-parent families, and displaced homemakers to achieve personal and economic self-sufficiency, family stability, and to improve their lives and the lives of their children. The agency offers a supportive family-centered environment where life issues are addressed through a combination of individual counseling, peer support groups, case management services, parenting skills training, life skills management training, home visits, childcare and early childhood education, family activities and health education.

For information about any of the services provided at Project Self-Sufficiency, call 973-940-3500 or 844-807-3500, or visit <URL destination=" ">

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