Students of all ages chatted with smiles on their faces as they entered the Mark Twain Senior High School gymnasium for the Back to School Fair on Thursday, Aug. 16.

Students of all ages chatted with smiles on their faces Thursday as they entered the Mark Twain Senior High School gymnasium for the Back to School Fair.

Northeast Community Action Corporation (NECAC) Ralls County Service Coordinator Dr. LeAndra Bridgeman began preparations for the fair in January, sending donation requests to every Ralls County business. She then contacted vendors that could offer resources for students of all ages.

The Back to School Fair reflected how tight-knit Ralls County communities are, with fundraising and organizing assistance coming from NECAC, Mark Twain Junior and Senior High Schools, the Ralls County Health Department, First Baptist Church New London, and community volunteers Sonya Johnston and Michelle Dean.

“I wanted to focus the resource fair more on youth programs and continuing education — not just social services, because that's what we've normally had in the past,” Bridgeman said. “The resource fair is for everybody, not just for anyone who needs assistance.”

Vendors with that focus included 4-H, Girls on the Run, Girl Scout Troop 9004, Culver-Stockton College, Hannibal-LaGrange University, Moberly Area Community College and Hannibal Parks & Recreation. Volunteers with the New London Fire Department grilled hot dogs and provided bottled water — joining fellow area emergency agencies like the Ralls County Sheriff's Department, Ralls County 911 and the Ralls County Ambulance District in providing education and resources to the children.

There were also plenty of opportunities to obtain what a student needs for the first day of school next Wednesday. First Baptist Church New London volunteers gathered 240 backpacks for the event, and Bridgeman said 128 student received free school supplies or backpacks. Clarity Healthcare offered free dental screenings, Douglass Community Services provided free hearing and vision screenings, and Kala Gollaher provided free haircuts.

Second grader Sean Macaluso said the haircut station was his favorite part of the fair, smiling as he said “I got my mohawk.” His sister, Amanda Macaluso, was next to sit down for a trim. She looked forward to studying math when classes begin.

Their mother, Tara Martin, said that she appreciated what everyone had to offer at the fair. “I love it,” she said. “Families need other things to do, and they can learn about the things going on in their communities. We're looking for children's programs.”

Third grader Eva Johnston smiled as she learned about water safety with Marli Chaloupka and Ben Yadon. Eva is enthusiastic about exploring animals when she gets back to class. “The deer and the bunnies and everything — I want to bond with them so they'll like me,” she said.

Chaloupka said she met friendly teachers and enjoyed the comprehensive fair. “We think it's an amazing school,” she said. Eva chimed in. “I like how it's the Tigers. I like tigers.”

Third grader Noah Miller showed off her smile after he received a dental screening from Lindsay Anderson, registered dental hygienist with Clarity Healthcare. Noah said receiving books was the highlight of the fair. He looks forward to Lego World projects in class, which he said combine reading and construction skills.

Sonya Johnston said, “there's so much good information” throughout the fair. She helped coordinate the event with Bridgeman, Janelle McPike from the Ralls County Health Department and Adria Palmer and Delores Woodhurst from the Ralls County R-II School District. Fifth grader Lukas Johnston agreed with his mom about the event.

“Some kids want to go to school and some not, but it's good for the kids who want to,” he said. “And the kids who don't want to, it's likely for them not to succeed.” From the fair to the updated curriculum and regular performance assessments, a variety of tools await each student.

“It's a great school district,” Sonya Johnston said, smiling.

Reach reporter Trevor McDonald at