ST. PETERSBURG – The drizzling rain may have wet the grounds at the Sanderlin Center on Saturday for the Youth Unleashed back-to-school event, but it did not dampen the spirits of the children who came expecting food, fun and school supplies.
The early morning downpour presented challenges to Rona Johnson, president of the Youth Unleashed organization, Clementine Wilson, vice president and the volunteers who were excited to help prepare children for the start of the school year. They did not want to cancel the event, but the greater concern was for the safety of the participants, especially for the younger children who were excited to get to the various vendors.
“The rain was very concerning because we didn’t know how long that it would last, and we really wanted to serve the children. It was a time of wait, see and stay hopeful,” said Johnson.
At eight o’clock, there were no participants, and Johnson stayed waiting in anticipation. About 30 minutes later, 40 people arrived, opening the floodgates. The weather had begun to cooperate, and more than 300 people participated.
“It was exciting seeing the people begin to come. Our vendors were here bearing gifts, and we wanted to serve the people,” said Vickie Spradley, office assistant.
Youth Unleashed’s back-to-school event is in alignment with their purpose to provide a positive place where every youth can become employed, regardless of race, religion or financial situation.
Founded by Johnson, a New York native who moved to the St. Pete area after attending business school, she brings with her a passion for working with the youth as a Girl Scout consultant and for eight years, working with groups of 65 girls and more that included the Daisy Brownies, Jr. Cadets and Seniors.
For the Aug. 11 event, Youth Unleashed collaborated with businesses and other community organizations such as the Junior League of St. Petersburg who contributed 250 backpacks; Levy Restaurants added 200 Tampa Bay Rays tote bags and Rubinstein Law distributed custom pencil pouches filled with writing supplies.
Children filled their bellies with hotdogs and chips while enjoying bounce houses and face painting. Volunteers from Sanderlin Family Support Services and Sanderlin GED program were on hand to make the event a success.
When deejay Johnny Moore turned up the music, it sprouted a party atmosphere. By this time, the crowd had grown far beyond the early morning count. Adults and youths alike exchanged greetings and shared words of overcoming obstacles, including the rain.
The crowd sang and danced with each other, which brought smiles and laughter. Not even the rain could dampen their good time.