Boys & Girls Club Carnival: So Much More Than a Family Fest

By Tatum Bartlett | Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The official fest poster.

“You would be amazed how many people do not know who we are or what we do here at the Neighborhood Boys & Girls Club,” says Program Director Bonnie Werstein. “But when I mention the Family Fest and Carnival, I characteristically hear something like, “Oh, that is you guys?!”

“It is so frustrating to hear,” she says. “We are so much more than just a family fest.”

Although I’m writing about the family fest as this week’s recommended event, I can understand where Werstein is going with this. The Boys & Girls Club adds so much to our community, which is why I’d like to showcase both the event and its sponsoring organization.

The Neighborhood Boys & Girls Club (situated in Paul Revere Park on Irving Park Road) opened its doors to children of the community in 1931. Over the past 80 years, the independent nonprofit organization has offered a variety of yearlong programs for boys and girls, ages 6-18: sports and recreation, social and cultural activities, computer classes, tutoring, summer camp, and leadership and scholarship programs.

This past year, 1,400 children participated in the Club?s free programs, many of which are run (with supervision) by local teens who’ve grown up in the Club.

“The past week alone, with the Family Fest and Carnival and summer camp going on, the teenagers in the leadership program have clocked 2,600 hours,” Werstein says. “They are involved in every aspect of the organization and are constantly working to make our community better. This is a powerful statement to be able to make.”

Werstein says that this past year the Club has seen “an explosion” of new families relying on the organization and its services.

“We are open to every child in the community—those from the housing projects to those living in multimillion dollar homes. Each and every child is welcome here,” she says.

The Family Fest and Carnival (located at Rockwell and Irving Park Road) is the Club’s largest yearly fundraising event, and the Club relies heavily on proceeds from the festival to continue its programs. The bash starts today, July 28, and continues through Sunday, August 1, and it has grown in size and offerings since its inaugural date some 62 years ago.

“We have an amazing group of volunteer parents, alumni, and community members that allow us to pull off the festival with each passing year,” says Werstein. “The community really gets involved in supporting [us]. It really is a testament to the Club’s impact on the community.”

The festival features daily live music, a mini amusement park, games, entertainment, food, and a beer garden. According to Werstein, the fact that the various booths (including prize booths and a game booth) largely operate on goods and services from community sponsors and donors allows the Club “an amazing profit margin.”

“Under the direction of alumni Jim Kartheifer, who has been running the festival for the past 30 years, every penny of the proceeds from the event goes straight back to the kids of the community,” she says.

The Family Fest & Carnival is open to all members of the community and beyond. It’s kept as economical as possible through the sale of ride specials. On Wednesday and Thursday, from 6 p.m.?11 p.m., $15 gets you unlimited access to all festival rides, while on Saturday and Sunday, the same amount grants you ride access between 2 p.m. – 6 p.m. For $10, Sunday evening’s “Last Blast” special earns you ride privileges from 7 p.m. to festival close.

And although my stomach turns at the mere thought, for those who can handle it, a “Mega Pass”—guaranteeing 33 hours of unlimited ride access—is available for $50. Saturday is Community Appreciation Day, while Sunday’s Family Day features a rock-paper-scissors contest, a petting zoo, and raffle winner announcements. (One propitious person will walk away with $10,000 in the Lucky Date Jackpot Drawing; other raffle prizes include a $1,000 in cash, an iPad, and a Netbook computer, among other items.)

Driven by standards of excellence, focused on the growth and development of children, and selfless in its aspirations, the Neighborhood Boys & Girls Club represents that which we strive to be as a community. The Family Fest provides a great opportunity to show your support for an organization that has a long history of supporting our kids.

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