Back to School Bash Draws Crowd



--By LIz Lennox**--

Back-to-School time can be stressful for families as they scramble to fill backpacks, plan lunches, purchase new clothes, and finalize schedules. Chippewa United Methodist Church in Beaver County tried to alleviate some of stress by hosting their third annual “Back-to-School Bash,” a free event.
Three years ago, about 25 people attended the first Back-to-School Bash. On August 16 this year, more than 400 came to what was an extravaganza with a variety of food and drinks, indoor and outdoor activities, free haircuts, a number of vendors, and over 400 visitors.
“We just wanted to give to the community and create for families a fun place with a good feel,” said Susan Winters, Director of Children’s Ministry at Chippewa.
Last year the rain forced the event inside, so this year the planning committee decided to intentionally use their large Community Life Center and fill it. Forty local non-profits and businesses offered a wealth of information and resources. Four professional hairstylists donated their time and gave more than 70 free back-to school-haircuts.
“This event was great! Susan Winters and CUMC are very community-minded, as are we,” said Stacey Rider, outreach coordinator for the Chippewa Branch Library, which offered resources at its table. “Being asked to be a part of this outreach gave the library the opportunity to connect with new families that have never visited our library. The community members that attended were able to connect with so many organizations and businesses for the benefit of their family.
Outside, children enjoyed Hawaiian shaved Ice cups and lined up to run the inflatable “Zip It” obstacle course. The Chippewa Twp. Police and Fire Department passed out badges and fire hats and allowed the children to sit in their emergency vehicles. To alleviate fears felt by some children when riding the school bus, McCarter’s Coach & Tour provided a brand new bus for children to climb aboard and explore.
Many of the participating vendors provided auction items ranging from free dance lessons to cleaning supplies for parents. Because the event was entirely free, visitors received tickets for the auction for participating in activities

Planning the Event

Considerable planning went into making the Bash such a phenomenal success. Because many community groups are eager to build partnerships and participate in such events, Winters said she contacted several local nonprofits and businesses. Many others heard about the Bash and contacted her.
As the size of the event grew , creating some nervousness, Winters reassured herself and others that “God will provide.” The church staff all helped at the bash, along with volunteers from the church and the high school’s National Honor Society.
Much of the advertising was done through social media, a great tool to reach people outside of the congregation. The event was posted continually on the church’s Facebook page and people were encouraged to share the post
Winters emphasized that the bash started as a small event. Congregations planning community outreach programs should not be discouraged by low turnout the first year, she said. She said it’s important to learn from failures and build on successes. She has already gathered feedback from vendors on how to improve Chippewa’s event for next year. Most of the feedback was positive, she said.
“It was spiritually rewarding to the church staff to provide a community event that gave families an opportunity to come together in preparation for the upcoming school year,” Winters said.  “We haven’t yet seen the effect of increased family attendance at the church. We are looking forward to further building relationships in the community.”

**Liz Lennox is WPAUMC's social media and visual communications coordinator.