After dancing along Newtown Avenue in Astoria, Natalie Ana García Peña, 9, created a colorful painting with the Queens Museum of Art, just before running to the outdoor stage to see an improv performance.
“This is the best day of Astoria life,” she said with a big smile.
García Peña was one of the hundreds of children who came with their families to enjoy the seventh annual Kids Fun Day, a street festival co-sponsored by Catholic Charities Queens Community Center in Astoria and Fidelis Care. This year, the festival included Zumba and hip-hop dancing, games, a FDNY Smoke House, a bounce house, face painting and crafts – along with information on safety and health for parents.
Debbie Hampson, community center director, said the free event enables them to reach out to the diverse population the community center serves.
“It brings resources to people who might not otherwise ask for them,” she said. “It’s a very informal vibe, so they are more apt to ask questions.”
Kids Fun Day began in 2009 as a way to distribute free back-to-school supplies to area children, especially those from low-income families. Hampson said the event has grown from 400 people in a parking lot into a community tradition with health screenings and city and local resources for close to 1,000 children and adults.
“It has grown because of the value that it has to the people and the response that we get,” said Msgr. Alfred LoPinto, CEO of Catholic Charities Brooklyn and Queens. “It shows that we are not inside the building; we are in the community bringing what is needed.”
At this year’s festival, families learned about Catholic Charities and the social services offered through the Queens Community Center, located in the former Our Lady of Mt. Carmel parish school, including the young adult internship program, ESL classes, WIC Program, workshops and more. Other community-based organizations included Big Brothers Big Sisters, Dental Smiles, the New York State Department of Conservation and St. Margaret Mary Queensbridge Head Start program.
Isabel Aragón, a parishioner of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, has been coming to the Fun Day every year since its inception. While watching her three children enjoy the sidewalk games, she said that the information provided is always helpful.
“We find out about a lot of information, a lot of resources and the children have fun,” she said. “Every year they are waiting excitedly (for this day) because they like it so much.”
This year, about 600 children received backpacks and other school supplies donated by participating organizations. Close to 60 Catholic Charities employees from Brooklyn and Queens volunteered at the block party. Other organizations, like the Floating Hospital, have incorporated the event into its internship program.
“At first it was just myself and a medical assistant,” said Cynthia Davis, director of outreach. “Now, interns plan activities for the kids.”
In addition to a spin-the-wheel game, the Floating Hospital provided medical screenings and information about mental health, blood pressure and cardiac care.
Groups such as Catholic Charities’ Latino Success through Education – S.T.E.P. Up Program, shared information with families.
“S.T.E.P. Up is a way for us to help families and kids to reach they goal and have a better future for our community,” explained Michael Amaxtal, a sixth grader in the program. “This is an opportunity for us to see how much we can be as learners.”
Festivalgoers agreed that this was an ideal way to finish off the summer.
“This is excellent, especially now that summer vacation is ending,” said Dina Ortiz, an Astoria neighbor. “This is a lot of fun for the kids. I am very grateful.”