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July 31st, 2021

Families jump-start school readiness at Back2Health fair

Courtesy of The Times • Written by Steve Euvino

GARY — There is a right and a wrong way to wear a backpack to school. Families attending the Back2Health Initiative Saturday learned that.

More than 25 area organizations joined Gary Community Partnership at U.S. Steel Yard to promote community wellness and student readiness for the return to in-person learning later this month. The Back2Health Initiative offered free health-related services and resources for children and adults, including gift cards, school supplies and medical advice.

As to backpacks, Mary Strimbu, manager of therapeutic services for Methodist Hospitals, said students should always wear both shoulder straps and the waist strap, if it has one.

“This protects the neck and upper back from too much strain,” Strimbu said, adding that backpack contents should not wear more than 15% of the student’s body weight.

Common mistakes, Strimbu said, include wearing only one shoulder strap and overloading the backpack.

Back2Health was sponsored by Gary Community Partnership and BMO Harris Bank in partnership with the RailCats and the city of Gary.

Jeffrey Edwards, executive director and president of Gary Community Partnership, said the goal of the annual health and back-to-school fair is to “work with youth to give them opportunities to prepare for life.”

Edwards was expecting at least 200 participants.

Health-related services included various testing, screenings, vaccinations, school-related immunizations, and sports physicals.

For adults, Methodist Hospitals provided information on breast health. According to Jennifer Sanders, manager of the hospital’s Northwest Indiana Breast Care Center, said only 61% of Lake County women have undergone mammogram screenings.

“Take care of yourself,” Sanders said. “For a lot of people, this is an eye opener.”

Meanwhile, parents were taking children to different stations, stocking up on school supplies and receiving physicals for school or sports.

Dr. Camille Borders, a pediatrician with Community HealthNet doing physicals, wanted families to ensure that students’ immunizations are current and be aware of any chronic medical conditions, such as asthma.

Angie Crawford, of Merrillville, came with daughter Dionna, 9, a fourth grader, and son Dion, 7, a second grader.

“I’m glad they’re giving back to the community,” the mother said.

Dionna, rummaging through her school supplies, admitted, “I got a lot of stuff.”

The fair drew people from downstate and Illinois, including those who came to watch the East Chicago-Roselawn Little League game.

Jazmyn Becerra, of East Chicago, was picking up supplies for her sister Jacklyn, who was on the field. “It’s great that they’re giving out information to families who might not know about this,” she said.

Lindsay Navarro, of Fair Oaks, came with son Brantley, 8, a third grader, to support the Roselawn squad.

“This fair was a bonus,” Navarro said.

As to preparing her two children for another school year, Navarro said, the challenge always is “trying to get it all together — books, supplies, everything.”

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