With the waning days of summer vacation, businesses and organizations were in attendance July 27 at the Campo Family YMCA, where the 12th annual Back to School Festival offered them a chance to promote their products, services and programs for the upcoming school year.
“We’re here talking about fall swimming lessons for the kids and to talk about our fabulous after-school program,” said Lori Bukaweski, director of operations for the not-for-profit Brandon Sports & Aquatic Center (BSAC). “Last year we picked up students from 17 schools.”
The festival, she added, “had a good turnout and a lot of good vendors, representing Brandon’s best.”
More than 2,500 backpacks and school-supply items were collected at the festival, hosted by the Valrico/FishHawk Chamber of Commerce at the Campo Family YMCA, according to organizer Marie Gilmore.
For vendors and attendees alike, the annual gathering showcases businesses and classes that hold a particular interest for educators and students, who are scheduled to go back to school this month. The first day of school for the School District of Hillsborough County is Aug. 19. Teachers return a week earlier.
To gain admission to the festival, attendees were required to bring $10 worth of school supplies or a $10 donation for the YMCA backpack program. Gil-more said the supplies would be forwarded along with a $1,000 check to apply to additional supplies as needed.
“The festival was a huge success,” she said. “We had close to 90 business booths in the gym; seven schools and organizations (staged) presentations, and more than 1,000 people attended.”
Gilmore was instrumental in the FishHawk Area Networking Group (FANG), which last year disbanded and folded into the newly formed Valrico/FishHawk Chamber of Commerce. The back-to-school festival had been a premier FANG event.
Now it is a signature event for the chamber, which at the festival added another 25 members, bringing its membership base to 125.
“The nice thing about our chamber is that we are there for small businesses,” said president Bridget Jenkins Wilson, a third-generation roofer and an owner of Cardinal Roofing and Solar Technologies in Valrico. “We want to keep the chamber as community-involved as possible without being so big we become a conglomerate.”
At the festival, instructor Todd Ricketts Sr. presented his students in a demonstration of karate skills they learned taking classes at the Y.
“Karate gives the kids self-confidence,” he said. “It teaches the kids to make their own decisions instead of just following the group. We teach the kids self-defense, self-discipline, and to try to keep their grades up.”
Adrianna Vasquez of Brandon manned a booth to expose her Lutz-based business, My Fairytale Forest, which serves customers throughout the county. My Fairytale Forest provides centerpieces, table linens, music and live characters for theme-based parties.
“I just love sewing and doing crafts,” she said. “I started doing it for other people. They loved my stuff and I started charging. We got so big working out of my house we needed a storefront.”
Amber Dina, of Riverview, was at the event with her 10-year-old son, Skyler, who was kept busy with a Jeopardy game while his mother had blood glucose and blood pressure readings at the booth hosted by St. Joseph’s Hospital-South, which is slated to open in February on Simmons Loop Road in Riverview.
The festival “is not child-oriented enough,” Dina said. “I like the (booths that have) games for children.”
Indeed, there was something at the festival for all ages, from infant to senior. “We’re currently enrolling for our fall classes, which start Aug. 21,” said Davidka McCaskill, enrollment development coordinator for Hillsborough Community College. She added that there are classes for students just out of high school “who want to attend college closer to home and get a good education.” Also, there are courses for adults looking to make a career change; for seniors who want to audit a class at no cost (and for no grades); and for high school students who want to earn college credits with dual-enrollment courses.
Jaci Petrock is the health and wellness director for Crunch Fitness, which is set to open Sept. 1 in the Royal Oaks shopping center at Bloomingdale Avenue and Lithia-Pinecrest Road. She said the festival was a great place to introduce the center and its offerings, including 60 group fitness classes weekly for its members and a Kids Crunch child care option for children up to age 13 and starting at age six months.
“The festival has great energy,” she said. “It’s nice to be able to make relationships with businesses and families in the community.”