LEWISTOWN - Kid Connection has become a widely attended annual tradition in Mifflin County, but its origin can be traced simply to one group of people determined to make a difference in their community.
The year 1982 was designated International Year of the Young Child. Our nation was challenged to do something focused on the young child (up to 10 years old), and the month chosen was April. The middle week of April was designated the week of the young child.
So, five people - Barb Allison and four others, from all walks of life - met at the Mifflin County Library and decided to have a day just for kids. The last Saturday in April was dedicated to the young child and helping them feel they are a part of this world, too.
Juniata Valley Family file photo
Toodles the Clown hands out balloon animals at Kid Connection 2013.
After the first meeting the committee sent letters to other agencies. There were 20-30 people at the next gathering. Meetings were held at Green Gables over lunch time, and it was Mike Grego who came up with the name Kid Connection.
The first year of Kid Connection's event was April 1983. This April marks the 32nd year of the event.
Since then, meetings have been held at the Elks, the Armory and now the meetings are being held at the Lumina Center. We meet the fourth Thursday of the month with two meetings in March and April.
Some other people that supported and helped plan the first Kid Connection were Randy Conklin, Borough Council; Jim Tunall, businessman from Tom Johnsons; Scott McCallister, businessman from Ruhl's; Mike Kalin, K's Army and Navy, who also printed the first t-shirt; and Mike Demi, school district art teacher who drew the first logo. Now we have a logo contest and the children get to draw the logo.
Allison went to Conklin about closing streets for the event, and he told her a lot of paperwork was needed. But he knew she was good for it and could handle carrying through with the event - so she proceeded with contacting the state, PennDOT and area merchants. Back then it was Market Street, from the square to Five Points, that closed. Today, it's closed from Wayne Street to Five Points plus all side streets contained therein.
During the first Kid Connection, The Salvation Army sold hot dogs and soda for 25 cents each. Now, 32 years later, the hot dogs are sold for 50 cents, and we replaced soda with water for 50 cents.
The information booth had items for all ages, from T-shirts and hats to keychains and pencils. The prices are still kept to a minimum because Kid Connection is not out to make money, just break even. We host 60-70 activity booths each year from local businesses, agencies and organizations.
Ray, Allison's husband, could be seen at the information booth - with his straw hat - selling T-shirts and blowing up balloons. He had blisters and band-aids on his fingers but wouldn't give up. It was a good feeling to tell parents that balloons were free.
At Kid Connection, families can come out and the burden of cost isn't there. Kid Connection, 32 years later, is still free. We are down in donations this year, but will get by. Hopefully in the end, we can break even to have Kid Connection next year.
Kid Connection was at Kish Park one year and the Youth Park another year, but that didn't go over well so it has always been downtown. We only had to cancel one year and use our rain date one time. I guess mother nature loves Kid Connection as much as we do.
Old maps and T-shirts can be seen at the historical society. The first year, there were 1,200 kids, the second year 3,000 kids, and from there we've had about 10,000 kids in attendance annually.
Kid Connection came close to closing due to insurance problems, but thanks to the borough and Friends of the Embassy, we are now covered.
Our committee still prods forward and won't say quit! After Barb chaired it for 16 years, leaving for health reasons, Chris Martenilli took over in 1998. I co-chaired with her, and in 1999, I took over. This is my 16th year as chairperson of Kid Connection.
I do it because I love it, and I am giving something back to the community that gives to me. I put thousands of smiles on thousands of faces. I keep a Lewistown tradition alive. This is my town, and I am proud to say I am from Lewistown.
I want to conclude by proudly saying that Kid Connection is unique in that its reason is to foster positive relationships between children and their parents and bring businesses, agencies, and the community hand in hand. It is a day for parents to attend with their children and participate in various activities free of charge.