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"The way it's supposed to be:" One Community, One Voice hosts community building event

"The way it's supposed to be:" One Community, One Voice hosts community building event

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Nine-year-old Kesniah Gibson isn’t sure if she’s excited to go back to school, and this year “going back” is more complicated than it’s ever been before.

With all eyes turning to area public schools as administrations roll-out reopening plans, parents are anxious to find out what the new school year will bring.

Kesniah’s mom, Keyona Gibson, said she’s feeling skeptical about sending her back, worried that as soon as they do, everything will shut down again.

But with the pandemic piling anxiety onto back-to-school routines, an event hosted by One Community, One Voice on Saturday afternoon at Riverfront Park provided peace of mind for some parents.

One Community, One Voice is a community group made up of law enforcement, Lynchburg faith leaders and other locals. It partnered with a half dozen other local organizations to get students what they needed before school begins in the coming weeks.

Kesniah slung a hot pink backpack over her shoulder Saturday, stuffed with notebooks, folders, pens and a brand new pair of shoes.

The shoe giveaway was organized by the University of Lynchburg, in collaboration with Samaritan’s Feet International. The University’s Master of Nonprofit Leadership Studies program collected more than 400 new pairs of shoes, and only an hour into the event, had given out about 80 pairs to area children.

Owen Cardwell, director of the University of Lynchburg Center for Education and Leadership, said the shoe drive was an effort to both expand the university’s footprint and to help children in the community.

“With kids going back to school, we are going to have a crisis situation, particularly for kids who are not going to have support at home in order to complete their work,” Cardwell said. “This is the way it’s supposed to be: the community coming together to be able to provide support. These are just a few things that the children don’t have to worry about as they start back to school.”

A Lynchburg native, Cardwell, who was one of two Black students to desegregate E.C. Glass High School on Jan. 29, 1962, said these issues are particularly close to his heart.

“This brings me back full circle,” he said. “To support the kids that need the support.”

Saturday also marked Alison Morrison-Shetlar’s first official day as the president of the university, and she spent it volunteering at the school’s booth, hoping to expand university partnerships deeper into the community.

“It inspires me to see what we can do to make a difference in the lives of others — here in the city of Lynchburg, and in the region and, ultimately, the nation,” she said. She was excited to head straight into the community on her first day, earning a warm reception from Pastor James Camm, who leads One Community, One Voice.

At the event, One Community, One Voice received its largest single donation in the program’s history — a $20,000 check presented by representatives from Walmart, another event partner.

With the pandemic crippling the economy, driving job losses, business closures and a mad scramble for child care, Camm said that the community is in desperate need of unity. The event brought community organizations together — such as the Lynchburg Police Department, The Lighthouse and the Lynchburg Fire Department — to provide free resources for children and an opportunity to build relationships.

Lynchburg Police Department Chief Ryan Zuidema said this was the first large-scale event many people had been to in three or four months, and it was nice to be back out in the community, interacting with people and see giveaways of much-needed supplies.

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