School’s in session and backpacks are full

Medical student Alex Rodriguez paints the face of a young student at the Back To School Barbeque.

Upstate medical student Alex Rodriguez paints the face of an elementary school student at the Back To School Barbecue.

Tuesday, September 2 marks the first day of school for thousands of Syracuse students who are backpack-ready, thanks to Upstate employee Mary Nelson, her Team Upstate colleagues and lots of community volunteers and donors. On August 16, volunteers handed out school supplies, backpacks, clothing and food at the Annual Youth Day Barbecue, held at South Salina St. and Wood Ave. in Syracuse. Nelson, an Upstate Radiology employee, started the barbecue 13 years ago to encourage young people to stay in school.

Upstate employees Joyce Freeman and Colleen McManus sort donated clothes to give away at the barbeque.

Upstate employees Joyce Freeman and Colleen McManus sort donated clothes to give away at the barbeque.

To add to the day’s festivities, Upstate medical students Nadya Dillion, Michael Enechukwu, Thomas Kartika and Alexander Rodriguez and pharmacology doctoral student Lesley Baker marched in the back-to-school parade and painted children’s faces with super-heros, cartoon characters, flowers and rainbows. They were joined by Upstate employees Aldrine  Ashong-Katai (diversity and inclusion), Danielle Fraser (information management and technology), Joyce Freeman (anesthesiology), Alexis Jones, (intensive care unit), Susan Keeter and Kristin Thompson (marketing and university communications), Colleen McManus (patient financial services), John Riggleman (emergency department), Terri Shuler (preadmission testing) and Renae Rockiki (president’s office).

“The Mary Nelson event is the essence of community, unity and empowerment of our youth,” said Ashong-Katai.

In preparation for the annual barbecue, Upstate Medical University held a month-long backpack and school supplies drive that generated hundreds of items which were donated to the event. The day-long event included live music by the Blacklites and lots of activities including free dental check-ups.

Darryl Patterson

Darryl Patterson

The Back To School Barbecue is held in loving memory of Nelson’s nephew, Darryl Patterson (b. 12/30/78-d. 6/4/02).

Click here to see Team Upstate — and lots of Syracuse school children — at the back to school barbecue. Video by Kristin Thompson.

About susankeeter

Occasional contributor Upstate’s Susan Keeter has written about and painted Upstate’s Dr. Sarah Loguen, one of the first African American women physicians. Keeter created the horse sculpture in front of the Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital and illustrated a children’s book on autism, “Waiting for Benjamin.” She’s written for Physician Practice, Upstate Alumni Journal, Cancer Care and Upstate Health magazines. Reach her by email at or by phone at 315-464-4834.
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