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Johnson Park Center holds Annual Back to School Party

Tuesday, August 25th, 2015

UTICA - Brothers Tyrease, Eric and Elijah Hervey raced through a math challenge Tuesday, counting on their fingers at times.

"All right, come on, guys, we've got to focus those brains for back to school," said Deanna Cushman, a volunteer and resident of Johnson Park Center who told the small group of students, broken up into age groups above and below 9 years old.

It was Johnson Park's annual Back to School and Say No to Drugs Party, which took place at the center from 5 to 9 p.m. Students of all ages — whether in preschool or returning to get their diploma equivalency — participated in educational, recreational, social and nutritional activities.

Close to 1,400 students were expected throughout the night, 1,000 of whom would receive a free bag of school supplies including notebooks, folders, a calculator, markers, crayons, glue and an eraser.

"We've been having fun all summer, making sure kids, adults and families are safe," said center CEO the Rev. Maria Scates. "Now it's time to refocus and think about going back to school."

The center also had a Five Ways to Be Successful in School essay contest, a pogo stick competition and a track race.

Janique Rodgers, a member of the JPC Youth Voice Initiative, was recognized with her peers for having completed a summer phase of work experience.

They each shared their five reasons for staying drug free — something Rodgers says the students discuss regularly at Johnson Park.

"Well, I don't want to get sick," the 11-year-old said. "I want to get a good job. I want a good education. I want my sister to look up to me. And I don't want my family mad at me."

To learn more about the services the center offers, including shelter services and youth programs, contact the center at 734-9608.