A cloudy morning did nothing to deter the hundreds of youngsters who waited patiently in line for their chance to enjoy the 11th annual Celebrate Youth Festival hosted by the Youth Services System Inc. Their patience was rewarded with a grand event featuring more than 60 exhibitors and a bounty of free food, entertainment, games and goodies at Wheeling Park on Thursday.
YSS representative Mike Toothman said the event was born from a desire to bring the community together with area kids.
“We know we have all these resources here, and we wanted to do something that involved the whole community, so we decided to get together and make something really special,” Toothman said.
Happy to step up
“The (Ohio) Valley is blessed with dedicated people and groups who want youth to be successful, and they come out each year to meet people and share what they do,” YSS CEO John Moses said.
Those volunteers were happy to be there. Professional clown and certified balloon artist Jennifer Staley has been an exhibitor for the Celebrate Youth events since the beginning.
“They (YSS) offer a lot of great services for the kids,” Staley said. “This event is a perfect example. It’s a great way for us to give back to the community and give the kids something fun to do.”
Nearby, the Ohio County Schools bus safety mascot Buster drove happily along, greeting the young guests and engaging them as they moved from booth to booth.
“Buster has been doing this for 20-plus years,” handler Dave Cunningham said. “He talks to them and plays music. We like to get volunteers and teach them proper bus safety: how to cross and how to be safe while on the bus.”
Other kid-friendly activities included popular classic video games provided by Best Buy, a small mobile menagerie provided by the Oglebay Good Zoo, face painting, inflatables, various prize-winning carnival games, a full lineup of entertainers and much more.
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As Kamari Katz, 7, of Martins Ferry sat to get her face painted, her guardian Kim Roeder said that she only heard of the event recently but that she was glad she came.
“It is great that they offer this for the kids,” Roeder said.
Healthy and successful living is a priority among the many offerings at this annual celebration. The Northern Panhandle Head Start offers income-based health care needs and social work for families with children from prenatal to 5 years old.
Since a lot of families may need their services but not fully understand their offerings, representative Brittany Matthews said family-friendly events are ideal for outreach efforts.
“We are here to promote our business for our area families,” head start representative Gina Bowman said. “We come to shows to talk to families, get contacts and grow our community.”
A great day
“It’s a great day for youth and their families,” YSS Development Director Tammy Kruse said. “It takes a whole community to do an event like this, and we are grateful to everyone who helps to celebrate youth and their success.”
(Photos by Daniel Dorsch)
• Born and raised in the Ohio Valley, Daniel Dorsch brings a rich background of research and writing to Weelunk. He studied at West Virginia University and Duquesne University and has worked as a historian, a journalist and a marketing communications expert. Daniel’s personal philosophy is that every person and every place has a story to tell, and he makes it his mission as a wordsmith to help tell them. Daniel lives in Weirton with his wife and son.