It's fitting that a city rich with history like Williamsport would have its future gather under the watchful eyes of the past. With Michael Pilato's sprawling "Inspiration" mural and its painted renderings of previous eras' local luminaries and beloved residents as a backdrop, current-day families and children will take center stage in the Woodlands Bank parking lot downtown at the fourth annual Kids First Friday from 5 to 7 p.m.
In what has become an August tradition, Kids First Friday is a community event for the public that is aimed at area children and their families.
"I love seeing so many families in downtown Williamsport on a Friday evening when we have our event," Junior League President and Kids First Friday Planning Committee Chairperson Amanda Carroll said. "Aside from parades or special occasions, downtown happenings tend to be very adult-centered - great for a date or an evening out with your friends. Kids First Friday is another way to show a large part of our community what our downtown has to offer," she said.
SUN-GAZETTE FILE PHOTO
Kids First Friday is a cooperative effort between the Rotary Club, the Newberry Lions, the Junior League and Williamsport Kiwanis.
"We always have the same organizations involved with the event's planning committee," Carroll said. "It's all comprised of service organizations dedicated only to community-based projects. Usually our organizations work separately but another incredible thing about this event is that it's one of few times we come together and do something as a group."
More than 30 local non-profit service organizations will provide information on their services as well as offering fun crafts and activities at their tables and booths. One such activity is an exciting art project being presented by an organization lauded for its programs assisting area residents, the Campbell Street Family and Youth Center.
"The mural-like piece will be done on large pieces of treated plywood," the Center's Program Coordinator Corrine Amron said. "I'm going to draw a peace-themed picture featuring a globe being held up by several multicultural hands. It will be taken to First Friday and there I will give children different colored paints to fill in the image."
Another participant, the West Branch School of Newberry, will again put its own twist or, more precisely, "spin" on art made during the event.
"We're going to be doing what we did last year with our table and spin art," Operations Manager of West Branch School Natali Prindle said. "The spin art is created by a machine squeezing paints upside down on 4-inch-by-4-inch slips of papers, creating a tie-dye effect. The children always have a lot of fun doing it. I'll also be selling copies of the cookbook created by our students and families."
Face painting and jewelry making also will be offered to keep young hands busy. The YWCA and members of its Court Assisted Special Advocate (CASA) program will have braidable string (called "Gimp") that can be strung with plastic beads to create bracelets. The YWCA, a partner program of the Lycoming County United Way, also will be represented by members of its Liberty House and Wise Options programs.
Their participation is a reminder that while Kids First Friday is a fun event it's also a great time to reach out to children or adults in need.
"That's why we'll not only have the presence of our CASA volunteers but also those from our homeless women's shelter, Liberty House and Wise Options, which assists abused adults and children," Communications and Development Manager of YWCA Mallory Weymer said. "We want people to know that these groups are out there to help them if they need it."
In fact a sense of camaraderie and coming together pervades every aspect of an event bustling with activity.
The Williamsport Kiwanis will be flippin' burgers and servin' up dogs on buns at their always popular Burger Burn while next door, members of the Newberry Lions will be salting fresh fries in their fry truck. All around them families will walk, taking their kids to leap around in the bounce house, meet the Crosscutter's mascot Boomer, explore fire trucks on display from the City Fire department or shoot a game of hoops at the popular basketball inflatable.
Speaking of games, a new one this year, the Artifacts Guessing Game, is sure to excite the aspiring archeologist or historian in the family. The Lycoming County Historical Society will be bringing in artifacts from their collection and the object is for people to guess what their function was in the past.
As part of the festivities, the James V. Brown's mobile Splashmobile library will be rolling up West Fourth Street as well.
"It's been available for only two years, so this is will be our second Kids First Friday participation," the library's Youth Services Coordinator Nina Edgerton said. "Inside it our summer reading assistant David Palazzo will have a multicultural story and craft in honor of our summer reading celebration, 'One World, Many Stories.' "
The Uptown Music Collective will make its debut as an invited participant this year, providing a pleasing soundtrack to the night's festivities.
Willie Ort, technical director of the Collective, said, "We'll be showcasing some of our fine local teen talent including singer-songwriter Alexis Donato and members of our Performance Blues Workshop. Each will perform hour-long sets right across the street between the Community Arts Center and the Sun-Gazette."
The absence, however, of an important and beloved member of the Kids First Friday family will make it a bittersweet event for many involved. Rotary Club and longtime planning committee member, Alan Demel, passed this spring.
"He (Demel) was such a large part of the event and instrumental in getting Kids First Friday off the ground," First Friday Planning Committee and Kiwanis Club member Keven Carroll said. "That was a big hole to fill. Fortunately, people stepped up to the plate and did just that. But Alan will be sorely missed by the community, he was involved in so many activities."
As the event grows, it's possible that Kids First Friday will look at a larger venue next year, particularly if they want to add more participants or a stage. But for another year, at least, you'll have the rare chance to see fondly remembered faces of our cities storied past looking down upon the laughing and smiling faces of Williamsport's promising future.