idea--a great group of volunteers just all working together to strengthen our community and the families within our community. We decided to make it a one week event, and each day we’d do something to strengthen each other. We wanted to keep it completely free so that everyone could participate and be involved. Then we got some businesses to help sponsor the week. It just evolved. We started doing essay contests, art contests and grandparent of the year contests and more. The grandparent of the year contest was started because in the beginning, we’d hear people say, “Well, we don’t have kids at home any longer. Our kids are grown and raised.” But grandparents are really important to the family, just like aunts, uncles and cousins. Extended family members can make a huge difference in a family’s success; therefore, the grandparent contest. Empty nesters (that would be my title now) must recognize how important it is to continue to teach and share with your children. In my case, learn from my children [laughing]. Please, don’t tell them I said that, but it is true. Families come in all different shapes, ages and sizes. We believe IT starts in the home. What is IT? Everything: life lessons on honesty, manners, kindness and so much more. As we strengthen our homes, our community, state and nation will be a better place for all of us. Focus: So is Polk County Family Week faith based? Waters: No, not really. I just felt like our county could benefit from a family week. We have government, non-profits, and businesses involved. I happen to be a member of a church that believes in and supports Polk County Family Week. We are simply a group of volunteers from the community that wants to strengthen families. Focus: And this is your 5th Annual event? Waters: Yes. It’s grown from a little idea and from the support of an incredible community of people. It’s been wonderful to see the things that have happened, and it really is continuing to grow and get even better. Focus: Can you give me a rundown of the week? Waters: Everything is listed on our website [www.polkcountyfamilyweek.com]. The Family Week kick off is always held two Saturdays before Thanksgiving each year. That would be November 12th for this year and FYI-Nov. 10th for 2012. Mark your calendars. Each year we have a theme. This year the theme is “Family Reunion.” We learned there are 17 different languages spoken in our Polk County schools. We’re quite a diverse community! We thought it was important to learn more about these different cultures and celebrate our own heritages. By learning more, we hoped to foster more understanding. We hope to see ourselves as a large, extended family that supports and appreciates each other and thereby strengthen our community.We always begin with a fun kickoff event—Saturday, November 12th this year. There is a free 5k and 1 mile walk/run at 8:00 a.m., and it’s pet friendly. At 9:00 a.m. we’ll have a flag ceremony, National Anthem and prayer. Following this we will have recognition of our government leaders and dignitaries and the international parade. We’ll also have free cotton candy, popcorn, snow cones, hotdogs and drinks. There is lots of free food and fun. We also have booths for kids where they can make crafts and necklaces, and we also have things for the guys and teens to have fun-- a free throw contest, putting green, things like that. There will be a petting zoo, bounce houses, fire trucks, places for sidewalk chalk art; just a lot of different activities. We’ll offer free family pictures. You might be surprised about the number of families out there that have never had a family picture. We’ll announce our essay and art winners. All of the top winners from each participating school (public, private and home
schools) will be recognized with framed certificates and Fred’s Market gift certificates. The top three in each category (K-2, 3-5 & 6-8) of the art and essay contest will share $500.00 in prize money. The art entries for the art contest will be displayed throughout the park. There will be free raffle prizes given away, including a $500 Publix gift certificate. The kick-off event will end at 1:00 p.m. On Sunday, we have talent shows going on in Lakeland and Winter Haven. Entry is free. Everyone is a winner. Go to our website to sign up for the talent shows. On Monday there are different activities to celebrate our past. Tuesday is a day to celebrate the present. Wednesday is “celebrate the future and eat together” day. We have some great international recipes to try and some great restaurant coupons available on our website with lots of good information about the importance of families eating together. Thursday is my favorite- “Be the Best Neighbor Day”. Our website has wonderful service ideas that can be used all year round. One of the simple suggestions would be to let someone go in front of you in the grocery store line or to bake cookies to take to your neighbor. There are many things people can do to show kindness. Each time someone performs a kind act, they can share it on our Facebook page to be entered in to a raffle. State Farm is going to give away a bunch of raffle prizes for being great neighbors. Bok Tower Gardens and Explorations V Children’s Museum will both be giving free admission to anyone who brings a book. The books will be donated to different people in the community. Friday is a day just to have fun with your family—play a board game, watch a movie, visit the libraries, free painting classes and more! We also have “Bears for Joyce” teddy bear drive. People can donate bears at the events or drop them off at various locations. They’ll be given to comfort people in the community. Last year we gave them to people in a retirement community. One of my favorites was a lady that asked, “How much are they?” We said, “They’re free. They were donated by people in the community who love you and want to know that you’re cared for.” She just started crying and asked, “Somebody loves me?” She took the bear and just hugged it. It’s great to see people sharing and helping. Focus: How many people typically participate each year? Waters: Our kickoff event is probably the easiest to quantify, and we estimate that last year we had about 1,000 people attend the kickoff. This year we’re expecting 2,000 people for the kickoff. Focus: There’s an incredible amount of coordination that must take place. Tell me how you’re coordinating your volunteers. Waters: We have a great committee; a great group of volunteers. There are about ten of us. We all just take a piece of the pie. We simply talk about what we want to do each year, and then determine who’s going to be able to do what. Each person takes what they’re willing and able to oversee. Each year I sit back in amazement as I watch Polk County Family Week come together. Many hours are donated. Sponsors donate money. This is a community that has incredible people that care about one another. Waters and many other volunteers who work to put this event together should be commended. The idea of strengthening families is so basic, it’s often overlooked. It’s wonderful to know that an event like this has so many creative components, there’s something for everyone in the family and it’s well attended and supported. Congratulations on a great event.
FOCUS Magazine lakeland October 2011