Wrangell Sentinel -

By Dan Rudy 

Families turn out for local youth fair


Submitted Photo

Dr. Charles Haubrich gives the canines of Wrangell Volunteer Fire Department's mascot Sparky a looking-over at the Wrangell Early Childhood Coalition – Best Beginnings Children's Fair last Saturday. Coming from Ferndale, Wash., Haubrich began practicing locally for Alaska Island Community Services last month.

Scores of families came to the gym at Evergreen Elementary School Saturday morning for this year's Wrangell Early Childhood Coalition – Best Beginnings Children's Fair.

"It's going very well," said Krissy Smith, the coalition's executive director. Manning the door, by midday she figured it was rivaling last year's turnout.

"It's been too busy to count them at the door," she said. Later in the day, she was able to calculate that 364 participants of all ages had attended.

In addition to handing out tickets at the door to participate in a prize drawing, Smith handed out surveys to parents with the help of a pair of students working on their senior projects.

The intent of the survey is to gauge current youth programming in Wrangell and collect feedback to help the local Early Childhood Coalition identify areas for growth and improvement.

There were 18 booths at the fair sponsored by a variety of organizations. Some were aimed at entertaining and educating kids, such as the balloon animals being contorted by a Hannah's Place volunteer, pony rides arranged by Ann Schnell outside, or the crafts and puzzles set out by Discovery Zone Daycare staff.

They also had an interesting display on sugar content in various foods. The next table over, cheerleaders from Wrangell High School kept a steady supply of cupcakes on hand.

Assisted by her oversized Dalmatian assistant, Sparky, Dorianne Blatchley of the Wrangell Volunteer Fire Department showed parents and children alike the "Smokehouse," a fire simulation trailer acquired through a Federal Emergency Management Agency grant.

"We primarily do it for the elementary school," she explained.

Volunteers from the Wrangell and Juneau Mendenhall Flying chapters of Lions Club International administered free eye screenings with a special plusoptiX device, of particular use for pre- and nonverbal children. Sixty-seven children were screened during the fair. Eleven children were referred for further examination by an eye specialist.

Meanwhile, a dental specialist at an Alaska Island Community Services table administered 57 screenings and made 12 referrals.

Across the gym, Beth Massin of AICS ran a mobile teddy bear clinic where children could bring their plush pals to be weighed and examined with medical equipment.

"It kind of familiarizes them so they're not afraid of it," Massin explained.

Other booths aimed at familiarizing parents with different programs and opportunities available to them and their children.

Donna McKay of Headstart was pleased to note that the previous day had been her 25th anniversary with that program, which itself has served Wrangell youth for 30 years. The preschool program aims to prepare kids for school while also strengthening social emotion skills and cultural training.

"The biggest accomplishment is probably stability," explained teacher Sandy Churchill. In its three decades, the program has helped over 500 area kids.

A table set up by Irene Ingle Public Library staff showed off the various e-books, tablets and computers they make available for use or checkout.

The Child Care Assistance and Bahai programs each put out information about their services, and members of the Evergreen Elementary Parent Advisory Committee let parents know they are there to liaise with the school on their behalf.

Though the Childhood Coalition has in the past put on its children's fair every other year, Smith said she hopes to do it again next year.


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