By Bonnie Adams, Managing Editor
Region – When Barbara Clifford, president of the Corridor Nine Area Chamber of Commerce, learned about the number of families living in temporary housing in several local motels, she felt compelled to help but didn's know where to start. But over the course of two days, thanks to the generosity of several local businesses, she helped to coordinate an outing for the approximately 30 children and their parents that made their Halloween a much happier one this year.
Clifford first spoke with Charles Gobron, superintendent of the Northborough-Southborough Public Schools. He then connected her with Julie Stanwood, coordinator for the nonprofit group, Families in Transition (FIT), which helps families in need who often live in temporary housing until they are able to secure their own.
During a chance discussion with Nancy Carlson of the Suburban Group Oct. 24, Clifford ?learned that Apple Tree Arts, a Grafton-based nonprofit music and theatre arts school, was going to be hosting a free “Spooky Halloween Music Festival” Oct. 27 at the Grafton Middle School.
The event was scheduled to feature Claflin Hill Youth Symphony members performing in an open rehearsal, an instrument “Petting Zoo,” provided courtesy of Robinson Music of Westborough, games, and refreshments. It sounded like a great opportunity for the children living in the motels to get out and have an afternoon of fun.
“The problem though was transportation,” Clifford said. “How do we get them there?”
A call to Steve O”Neil, administrator of the Worcester Regional Transit Authority (WRTA), resulted in a donation of two buses for the afternoon.
The next challenge was providing costumes for the children to wear to the event.
“Deborah Penta (CEO of PENTA Communications, Inc.) agreed to pay for the costumes. Julie got her all the individual sizes and then Deborah and her 11-year-old son, Michael, went out and over the course of two hours, bought them from various local stores,” Clifford said. “By that night Julie had delivered costumes to the families.”
The day of the event the families arrived via the WRTA buses at the school and quickly assimilated into the crowd of nearly 200 other local kids and their families.
Parents smiled as they watched their kids play games, watch the young symphony performers, ??try out instruments in the “Petting Zoo,” and indulge in candy and other treats.
“This is excellent,” one father said as he held his little 3-year-old son who was wide-eyed as he took all the sights and sounds in. “It's so much fun for the kids.”
Pearl is a mother of five children ages 9, 11, 13, 15, and 16. Living for five weeks in a motel had been tough, she admitted.
“I am so thankful to everyone for all of this today,” she said. “My kids know Halloween this year is not going to be like any other year so when they heard about this, they were so excited.”
Jan Barlow, education director at Apple Tree, noted that the school was “thrilled” to welcome the families.
“Music and kids are a natural combination,” she said. “The more they are exposed to it, the better their lives will be. It's so great to have so many people working together to make this a fun event for all of these kids here today.”
Garrett Colon, a sales associate from Robinson Music, oversaw the “Petting Zoo,” helping kids try out instruments that in some cases were almost as big as they were.
“I love working with kids anyways, but today is especially wonderful,” he said. “It's great to give kids a chance to try an instrument they might never have thought to pick up. It's a great way to get them to use their brain in a different way.”
After the success of this event, Clifford is now looking forward to putting together other events for the kids.
“So many people helped to make this day happen and I am so grateful,” she said. “I hope this will inspire other businesses to help out at future events.”
Here are some more photos from the event: