Children are given backpacks filled with school supplies. Photographs by Jessica L. Marsala. See more photographs at

St. Leo University hosts 'Fresh Start' for local youth

Originally Appeared in : 9915-7/18/19

St. Leo University’s Savannah campus opened its doors July 13 to a different generation of learners, much younger than the students who typically walk the halls of the adult education facility on Montgomery Cross Road.


As part of its inaugural “Fresh Start” back-to-school event (see more photos here), the Catholic institution of higher learning—headquartered in Tampa, Florida—invited youth, due to head back to their own classrooms in August, to get a jump start on the 2019-2020 school year with free supplies, haircuts and manicures, and massages for their parents.


“This is awesome. This is wonderful,” Marcia Ferman, who attended the event with her twin sons and three of her grandchildren, said. Ferman, whose sister attended St. Leo University and informed her about the event, even had time for a massage while she waited for the children to get haircuts and manicures. “This is very nice to do for the community.”


Brian Bailey, the Savannah Education Center’s assistant director of admissions, emphasized the event’s focus on community, one of the institution’s six core values. He explained that, for St. Leo University, service to the community is “not just a slogan,” and they take all of their core values, which also include excellence, respect, personal development, responsible stewardship and integrity, very seriously.


Among the different groups represented at the event: Amerigroup, E-93/Cumulus Radio (WEAS-FM), 100 Black Men of Savannah, Image is Everything Nail Bar, The Truth: Full Service Salon, Future Minds, and Socks for Courtney.


Alneata Kemp, founder of the non-profit Socks for Courtney, which donated socks to attendees in memory of her 9-year-old daughter who passed away in 2012 and who had a passion for the clothing item, also took advantage of the services provided by taking another one of her daughters to get her hair braided.


“(Service) is something that we all can do. If we all do a little bit together, we can do so much, so it feels so awesome to be here,” Kemp said, acknowledging that though she and her husband started the non-profit to keep Courtney’s name alive, it’s also about serving “from a place of humility and emptiness.”


Bailey said he desired “Fresh Start” to be a near-recreation of the “Back to School Jam” he had twice hosted while working for the now-defunct Savannah campus of Virginia College. He also said that hosting an event like “Fresh Start” helps increase awareness of St. Leo University among the self-described powerhouses in Savannah like the Savannah College of Arts and Design (SCAD), Savannah Tech and Georgia Southern University.


“We just moved into this brand-new facility back in June of 2018. This used to be the old V.A. center,” Bailey said. “So a lot of people didn’t know we had moved from our old location, which was on Mall Boulevard and Hodgson Memorial. So now folks are getting an opportunity to come out to see the new location and see how everything looks compared to the old location.”

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