Thousands of families hustled through ballrooms to get supplies, new haircuts and everything they need before school starts during the Denton Back to School Fair on Saturday morning.
The Back to School Fair, held this year at Embassy Suites by Hilton Denton Convention Center, offered a variety of services for families with students who are eligible for free lunch. It’s organized by several entities including Denton ISD, United Way of Denton County, Interfaith Ministries and Serve Denton.
The fair offers health services and connects families to resources in the community. In a few rooms, organizations provided free vision and hearing exams, haircuts and connected families to several dental offices in the area.
One organization new to the back-to-school territory Saturday was DFW Trans Kids and Families of Texas. The group started in 2015 with a few families seeking to support their transgender kids, and the nonprofit has since grown into a larger support and advocacy organization.
“Our mission statement is to create awareness, and this is how we do it,” Kelly Pelkey, the group’s fundraising coordinator, said about resource fairs. “[We’re] letting people know [families with trans kids] are just like them and help families who didn’t know we existed.”
The organization has previously participated in suicide prevention and pride events in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Some of their monthly events offer peer support for parents to discuss what it’s like to parent a transgender child, as well as social gatherings for families.
“As a parent of a trans child, it’s important to find the right doctors, the right therapists and find support that feels like a [family],” Pelkey said.
Monica Moen, a committee member for Denton’s Back-to-School Fair, said she considers haircuts to be a part of the health aspect of the fair. Moen said having a good self-image is a good step to starting a new school year.
“What we’re trying to do is give kids a healthy start,” Moen said. “It’s important they feel their best [for their] spiritual and mental health.”
Hairstylists from around the area — including the local J.C. Penney, ITS Academy of Beauty and Ogle School, and Denton ISD’s cosmetology program — volunteered their time to give kids new looks and freshen up old ones.
“All of it is free and has to do with a large number of kids that fit the criteria for free lunch,” Moen said.
Groups from the University of North Texas were involved in a few aspects of the fair, including outreach and conducting hearing exams for kids. While grade school students are years away from college, a staffer said UNT does a lot of outreach to area schools.
Landon Ellison, with the UNT Office of Outreach, said kids he’s spoken to at outreach events are very knowledgeable and aware of college. He mentioned a class of fifth graders who asked him about student debt, and an eighth grader on Saturday who asked about UNT’s engineering programs.
“To me [outreach is] very rewarding,” Ellison said. “I like helping people find their pathway. It’s really empowering to reach [kids] at a younger age. Even if they don’t remember everything, they’ll remember something and hopefully that’s something they can hold onto during high school.”