Coming together: New Kensington celebrates with Community Days
For the $2 admission she paid Friday, Nicole Guyer got her money's worth during her first stop at New Kensington Community Days.
Guyer was able to enjoy her 3 1⁄2-year-old son, Kaden, watching in awe as Debo the Clown did his thing as a balloon sculptor.
As a group of about 15 people watched, Debo took two long, white balloons, inserted two small balls in them and then twisted them into an object of fascination for Kaden. He continually turned the sculpture, which was bigger than him, to make the balls bounce and roll to the bottom.
“This is his first time here,” said Guyer, 26, of Lower Burrell. Actually, it was her first time at the three-day event in Memorial Park — as a parent.
That makes her perspective different from years past when she would go to Community Days. She said it has a real family-friendly feel.
“It does — it really does,” she said.
There were plenty of people of all ages at the park, stopping to browse at the various craft booths and sizing up the bill of fare at the food booths that featured everything from hot sausage to blooming onions, barbecues and, of course, the ever-popular summer festival favorite: funnel cake.
Pete Kariotis, 29, of Lower Burrell sampled the french fries with his daughter, Leila, 4, at his side, holding a balloon flower sculpture in her hand.
His reason for coming to Community Days? “To spend time with her,” he said, nodding toward his daughter.
Leila wasn't interested in food, however. She was ready for their next stop, which she called “The bouncy house,” one of several big inflatables that created another playground in the park for kids of all ages.
They included a sinking ocean liner, which doubled as a slide, and two large inflatable balls that people climbed inside of and then rolled themselves down what looked like an inflatable bowling alley without the pins.
“It makes you really dizzy,” said Alexis Stern, 16, of New Kensington who tried her hand at it, along with her brother, Joseph Karpinski, 12, of New Kensington.
She continued, “After you get down there (end), you're really out of breath, but then you have go down and back again. It looks so much easier than it is.”
A big part of the Community Days celebration is music, and Friday night it had a real hometown flavor since it was provided by Jimbo and the Soupbones. The group's leader, James “Jimbo” Jackson, is a New Kensington native who did most of the singing as the band presented an eclectic mix of tunes ranging from Hall and Oates to Led Zeppelin and Stevie Wonder.
Kristen Thrower of Lower Burrell and her cousin, Diane Hightower of New Kensington, moved their heads in time to the music as they sat in front of the bandstand watching the show.
“I like Jimbo — I grew up with him,” Thrower said. “I've known him all my life. We're really fortunate to get him.”
“It feels like a family reunion,” Hightower said of Community Days. “We've only been here a little while and we've seen so many people we haven't seen for a long time.”
Hightower is the dean of students at Westmoreland Community College and said she persuaded the college's multi-cultural committee to book Jimbo's group for a performance when students return in the fall. She said she encouraged some of her staff members on the committee to come to Community Days and get a preview.
Jordan Robertson, 27, of Harrison is one of the staff who turned out but is no stranger to the event. She said she regularly came to Community Days when she was younger but hasn't attended since she was 13 or 14.
“I love it,” Robertson said. “This was always one of my favorite things.”
Apparently she was not alone in her thinking. John Thompson, of New Kensington Fire Company No. 1, was one of the three people taking admission fees at the park entrance. He said they passed out admission tickets to about 1,100 people Friday. That didn't include those who rode in on shuttle buses from the Valley High School and Huston Middle School parking lots.
“Normally the first day, we get rained out,” Thompson said.
All of that bodes well for the event, which is the major fundraiser for the city's volunteer fire department.
As Hightower observed, “There are certain occasions when the community comes together. This rocks.”
Tom Yerace is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.