Darth Vader, storm troopers, homemade Death Star corn hole boards and other Star Wars-themed decorations and costumes took over the track at Elkin High School Friday for a health and safety fair geared toward elementary and middle school students in the area.
Austin Caviness, pastor of Poplar Springs Baptist Church in Dobson and former meteorologist for WXII, opened the fair by getting the students excited about the activities and booths they would be visiting and reading the North Carolina Child Abuse Prevention Proclamation.
This year’s fair was a little different than previous years as it was a combination of the traditional health fair hosted annually by the school system and the child safety fair which, after years of being held in Dobson, went on the road last year.
With last year’s child safety fair being held in Pilot Mountain, the decision was made to bring it to Elkin for 2016 and then it will be in Mount Airy in 2017, explained Paige Jackson, counselor at Elkin Elementary and chairperson for the committee organizing the fair, which was hosted by the Surry County Child Protection Team.
“It’s all about the kids,” Jackson said of Friday’s day-long event, hosting students from Elkin Elementary and Middle schools and Mountain Park Elementary School. “They’re going to get so much more out of it than if they had a lesson in the classroom on safety.”
With more than 25 stations set up, groups of students rotated through, spending four or five minutes at each one. While some agencies chose to allow the students to play games for small prizes, provided free face painting or handed out food like popcorn and snow cones, others had a message to share with the children.
As the kids got in line to ride the giant inflatable slide, a representative from Hugh Chatham Memorial Hospital made sure each one got a brochure on stroke information to put in their goody bag to take home to their parents.
Other booths like Jodi Province Counseling impressed on the kids the message of “your body belongs to you,” teaching acceptable forms of touching like handshakes and fist bumps, and being sure the children know “it’s OK to tell” if they are touched inappropriately.
At another booth, Dr. Lauren Meek shared dental health with the students, using a giant toothbrush and a stuffed bear with a full set of teeth to show them how they should be brushing and then handing out tooth brushes and toothpaste to take home.
The Surry County Health and Nutrition Center’s station allowed the students to spin the wheel of exercises and then take part in the action the wheel landed on like doing jumping jacks, while another booth led by rangers with the North Carolina Park Service taught them about animal safety and what to do if they are bit by an animal like a snake.
The Surry Stop Child Abuse Now (SCAN) organization had the children circle up and pass a ball around, saying something nice about the person they were handing the ball to as they went.
The Elkin High SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) Club and Elkin Police Department decorated the children, giving them temporary tattoos with messages about Child Abuse Prevention Month. The idea was when the kids got home, their parents would ask about the tattoo and then the child would share their packet of information and what they learned with the parents and other children in the home.
“The more people you can get involved, the bigger the impact you can have on the kids,” said Jackson.
Most booths sported some sort of Star Wars decorations, but Jackson pointed to the Children’s Center of Surry station which featured people in costumes, including Darth Vader, as the kids played tic-tac-toe and other games; as well as the Guardian ad Litem agency which fashioned homemade cardboard box corn hole boards decorated as the Death Star and had the kids throwing small rice bags at the target.
“We’re out here basically to raise awareness of our program,” said Colleen Church of Guardian ad Litem, a volunteer organization which provides adult advocates for children in the judicial system. “We had flyers and socks donated for each kid’s goody bag. We are making sure the community knows who we are and that we are advocating for their children.
“If parents want to volunteer, we would love that. It also gets our face out there, and let’s children know we support them and to interact with them.”
Each student got a goody bag filled with information and other items, and many of the booths provided additional information for the students to add to their bags as they circled the Elkin High School track.
The students seemed to be enjoying the change of pace for their day’s schedule as well. Several said they were having fun and couldn’t wait to get their faces painted.
Austin Caviness said being a part of Friday’s event was important to him. “Seeing the kids here have fun with these activities and learning about agencies that care about them and love them is a powerful reminder of why it is important to protect them,” he said.
Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.