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Bags filled with free merchandise greeted new and returning Bulldogs at the annual Welcome Back Barton event held Monday afternoon in Wilson Gymnasium.
Kimberlyn Evans, a native of Wilson who is a junior studying nursing, was in the throngs of students who were on the receiving end of giveaways from nearly 100 local businesses and governmental institutions.
"I love it," Evans said. "It's one of my favorite events at Barton. Lots of free stuff. You get to see a lot of the new people coming in because almost everybody comes to it. You get to see lots of friends and hang out."
"It's definitely one of my favorite events here at Barton," said junior nursing student Caitlyn Fairchild. "Everybody kind of comes together. You get a lot of free stuff and you get to see a lot of the faculty and definitely the freshmen and you get to introduce yourself to them and make them feel more welcome."
Chelsea Lucas, from Nashville, who is an incoming freshman studying exercise science, said she appreciated the support.
"Everybody coming out and giving everyone the opportunity to be able to get new stuff and welcoming everyone, I think it's great," Lucas said."I got a bunch of T-shirts, headphones, things to hold your cards on your phone. It's great."
Alan Winstead, a Wilson Farm Bureau insurance agent, has participated in the event for many years.
"It serves one thing, to let the kids know what's in Wilson, what Wilson is about and to let them know how much we love the kids at Barton," Winstead said. "Barton is an integral part of our community and all the businesses like to come out and support Barton and its students."
Biren Patel, representing Subway at Brentwood, brought refill cups for the students.
"We are the closest Subway to the campus, so we are a few minutes away and they can come here for lunch break, for brunch and for supper, whatever is convenient for them," Patel said. "This is to support the students and to show them the community. We appreciate that Barton College is here and we welcome the students and congratulate them for coming up here."
Vindy Perry, owner Cupcake Dreams in the Shoppes at Brentwood, brought fidget spinners to give away.
"It has our logo on it because everybody loves them nowadays," Perry said.
Chandra Murrain, of Ritchie's Automotive and Cycle Connection, Inc., figured making a connection with the students was best done through their stomachs.
Murrain stuffed bags filled with popcorn "because Ritchie's is poppin' with flavor."
"We are just going to introduce the student to a place that they can get help when they need it," Murrain said.
Paula Furiness, wellness coordinator with Wilson Medical Center, said she and colleagues were there to welcome students back to school and wish them a good year, and offer some tobacco cessation information.
Coming to school and being away from family carries with it a lot of responsibility.
"Students have a lot of new encounters, surroundings, roommates and a lot of exposure and temptations," Furiness said. "We are here every year with Welcome Back Barton and typically do something to encourage a healthy lifestyle but mainly just to be supportive of what Barton's trying to do today to welcome back the students."
Christine Fitch, co-owner of the company 5Linx, was there in part to offer students a new streaming television service that can be received via internet to their cellphones.
"It's important because they are becoming a part of this community and some of them will end up settling here and so they need to know what's going on in Wilson, the services, the products and what's available in the city," Fitch said. "This is a good introduction for the first year, the second year, the third year, whatever the time, it's awesome for them to become acquainted with the businesses and the providers of businesses in the community. An uninformed populace can be led down the wrong road. We all need to stay informed, whether we're young, old, middle aged or whatever. We all need to be informed as to what's going on in life."
Cameron Sutton, a marketing associate with Jana L. Lake State Farm insurance, brought logo-emblazoned baseballs, T-shirts, pens, drink-huggers and tissues.
"Don't hold back on advertising because it is getting yourself out there in the community," Sutton said. "Being born and raised in Wilson, I think it's very important because there is a lot to offer in a small town that is overlooked and I think that can sometimes be missed with the competition out there in colleges...There are a lot of great opportunities here."