Mary Nelson's Ninth annual Youth Day BBQ

A community comes together as thousands of children and families come out to be entertained, eat and receive school supplies.

The smell of barbecue, the sound of music filled the air and tons of school supplies stretched across tables located in the Key Bank parking lot, as families filled the corner of South Salina Street and Wood Avenue Saturday, Aug. 21, during Mary Nelson’s Ninth annual Youth Day BBQ and Backpack Giveaway.

Mary Nelson, who started this event nine years ago after losing her nephew to violence, spoke to the crowd.

“I would like to thank everyone for helping this event stay violence free over the years,” she said. “I would also like to thank my sponsors for always supporting this event.”

She also stressed the importance of the community sticking together by telling parents “You cannot raise your child by yourself.”

Chief of Police Frank Fowler presented Nelson with a plaque on behalf of Mayor Stephanie Miner, thanking her for all of her hard work and dedication to her community. Fowler also echoed Nelson, saying, “Children are our future, as adults we are obligated to look out for you and make sure that you have everything you need.”

Not only does the Youth Day BBQ provide children with the school supplies they need to get their education off to the right start, but it also exposes them and their parents to the many services available to them as they travel through their academic journey.

A number of organizations came out to support Nelson’s cause. Say Yes to Education, free tutoring services provided by Murray Learning Services, Girl Scouts, housing opportunities, Job Corp, Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection and many more. Tammy Brown a representative for the Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection, like others stressed the importance of community support.

Five-year-old Zacari Dickerson was excited to be able to pick out his school supplies as he was gearing up to start first grade this school year. “This is a great event and we need more positive community events for our children,” said his mother Tiffany Dickerson.

“Mary Nelson is an unbelievable star,” said Superintendent of the Syracuse City School District Dan Lowengard. “She understands that we have to take ownership of our community and kids.”

Taking ownership is exactly what Mary Nelson plans to continue doing until she no longer walks this earth. “Starting Aug. 22, I will start planning for next year’s Youth Day BBQ.”

— Story by Contributing Writer Katherine Hills