When Joseph B. Washington was a child, he and his mother found free school supplies where they could.
“I was a product of this,” Washington said, looking around the Richmond County PTA’s Back to School Kickoff on Saturday afternoon at James Brown Arena.
More than 3,000 students from elementary to high school waited outside in the rain to attend the event, which included games, food, and booths from local and national companies and nonprofits, along with a backpack and socks giveaway.
Washington has published a self-help book and is asked to speak around the world. As the keynote speaker Saturday, Washington said he could sense Augusta was a strong community.
“It takes a village to raise a child,” he said. “This is the first time I have seen a village that seems awake in a long time.”
Richmond County PTA council President Monique Braswell said she was impressed with the number of people who came out for the second annual kickoff. She said she had collected 3,010 backpacks and could not be more excited to give them away.
“I was nervous last week,” she said, referring to bags she had received that were heavily damaged. “But it came together beautifully. It is almost like being a brand new mother again.”
Booths were set up from companies including Fifth Third Bank and Sunshine Tutoring, who gave out candy and other items.
The county school board had a booth where parents could find out when and where their children could catch the school bus Monday.
“We are thankful for everything the PTA does,” Melinda Hockmart said as she watched her two daughters in the bounce houses. “A backpack for each of my girls is going to help a lot this year.”
Hockmart lost her job as a grocery clerk in Atlanta at the beginning of the summer. She moved in with her cousin in Augusta until she can find a job.
She said she looks at Augusta as an opportunity, not somewhere she was forced to be.
“There are a lot of smart, special people in this room,” she said. “Augusta looks out for each other, and I’m happy to be part of it.”
Washington spoke about the importance of parenting and community. He encouraged parents not to give up on themselves or their children and to seek out other parents.
“With kids, it will pay dividends if we all keep this village together,” he said.