The lively party at Robinson Square Community Center burst with color, but Tuesday’s gathering was not your typical summer shindig.
The bright atmosphere emanated from tables stacked high with school supplies, notebooks, binders, crayons and markers creating a rainbow that drew in dozens of eager children.
Tuesday afternoon’s event was one of three back-to-school supply parties hosted by FACETS, a nonprofit that helps families and individuals in poverty in Fairfax County. The parties were held in low-income public housing developments this week to distribute supplies from the organization’s school supply drive.
The annual parties are part of FACETS’ Education and Community Development program, which operates year-round in the communities providing support to children and families.
At Robinson Square in Fairfax, a community of 45 three- and four-bedroom townhouses, the average household income is $22,000, according to Jane Wilson, team leader for the ECD program.
The school supply party served more than 80 residents of the community, mostly children but also a handful of parents attending adult high school. Participants submit a form to FACETS to sign up to receive a backpack stuffed with supplies.
“Education is the best way to break the cycle of poverty, which is why the back-to-school drive is so important,” Wilson said.
The party not only provides students with the required academic accoutrements, it also helps them get excited for the new school year. Children get to choose their own school supplies, which adds to the anticipation.
By 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, 30 minutes before the start of the party, a line of 30 children had already formed outside the community center.
Once the doors opened, children came in waves, zigzagging their way through tables of supplies. Volunteers helped them ensure they got everything on their school supply lists.
Anything the children could not find at the drive went on a list, Wilson said. FACETS uses cash donations to buy the needed supplies, then distributes them personally to families.
Edgar Guerra, one of the dozen-odd volunteers, watched as children filled their backpacks. Some bags are precisely organized, while others overflow with notebooks and pens.
The 27-year-old, now a personal banker for Bank of America in Fairfax, spent six years of his childhood living in Robinson Square. Back in his old neighborhood to volunteer with his co-workers, he recalled the days when he attended the FACETS back-to-school supply parties as a student.
“You know that you live in this special neighborhood,” Guerra said. “You know you don’t do all the same things that other kids do. This party, it means that you don’t have to feel different on that first day of school. You don’t have to feel like the kid who doesn’t have things.”
Guerra paused to help a boy gather supplies for his first year of high school.
“A two-inch binder for history, a two-inch binder for geometry …” Guerra read off the list. “Grab the Five Star ones, those are the best.”
Guerra said he remembered how FACETS volunteers helped him, and he was glad to continue that mission.
“Understanding that the community is here to support them and they’re not on their own, it just adds to the confidence that they go to school with,” Guerra said.