HOULTON, Maine — Standing inside the jam-packed Millar Civic Center on Saturday, Mary Ellery watched her grandson, Dakota, jump inside a bounce house.
The 6-year-old was surrounded by friends that he had just made the week prior in his kindergarten class, which was the catalyst for her attendance at the event.
“I come to this every year, and it is a lifesaver,” she said. “My daughter raises my two grandchildren alone and she works hard, so I try to bring them to this event every year. It is wonderful.”
The free Aid For Kids annual education fair featured a host of activities for youth, including inflatable bounce houses, obstacle courses, giveaways and safety lessons. Along the bleacher section, youth sat waiting for free haircuts given away by local salons, barbers and beauticians.
Established in Houlton in 2005, Aid For Kids is a non-profit organization that aims to better the lives of children and their families. Its “Other Maine” project is exclusive to the state and distributes new articles of clothing, school supplies, essential household items and books for children to take home.
Besides assisting families with getting their children ready for school, the event also helped connect families with educational and civic services they may not know about.
New this year was the Chewonki Foundation, a Wiscasset-based organization that brought several live animals and taught basic facts about each animal.
The Challenger Learning Center in Bangor helped youth make paper rockets, while Ellery said that her granddaughter had “loved” the back-to-school haircut she received at the event last year, and was busy making sand art at a nearby station. At the Lowe’s Build & Grow booth, her grandson had made a wooden craft kit.
“We were so pleased with the haircut she got here last year that we still see the stylist,” said Ellery. “I would never have gone there had I not been introduced to her here last year.”
The Maine Department of Public Safety had its texting simulator at the event, which was popular with attendees. The simulator is a teaching tool that allows the participant to drive and try to text at the same time on a computer to see the consequences of texting and driving.
In addition, the department will have the rollover simulator on hand to teach the importance of wearing seat belts to help avoid serious injury in a rollover.
The Maine Warden Service also was busy educating youth about animal tracks, and had a variety of furs and pelts on hand for them to touch.
Kristy Mitchell said that her daughter Haven Mitchell, 9, had spent the morning participating in activities being put on by the Cary Library.
“She loves coming to this,” she said. “We come every year.”