Children wasted no time on Saturday in advance of fireworks at Freedom Fest. Though the skies would be illuminated with rockets and explosions in celebration of Independence Day at Elkin Municipal Park, there were three bounce houses to break in.
“I’m here with my cousin,” said William Holcomb, 11, of Wilkesboro. “We’re bouncing. It’s kind of cool. Gotta go. Bye.”
“He’s just so excited,” said his Holcomb’s mother, Beth. “This is a great time. We love it. I can sit over there and keep an eye on my kids. “
Freedom Fest started at 5 p.m. in the Elkin Municipal Park on Saturday. The lines for the bounce houses in the children section were steady. The section was so popular that each bounce house had an Elkin Jaycees volunteer coordinating entry and exits similar to air traffic control.
“What’s happening here is that kids are buying bracelets. It’s unlimited bouncing for just five bucks. It also lets them do speed pitch, too,” said Scott Alexander, chairman of the board for North Carolina Jaycees. “It keeps them entertained and it tires them out for the parents… It provides a space where it’s safe for the kids and lets them have fun.”
Alexander made way to Elkin from Kernersville to help volunteer for Freedom Fest, the Elkin Jaycees’ largest annual fundraiser.
“I fell in love with this chapter when I came here years ago. They have amazing spirit here in Elkin. The Jaycees are organized. They’re into doing great things,” said Alexander.
The Elkin Jaycees, a group of young professionals who collaborate on behalf of community interest and special events, is led this year by its president, Alicia Gentry.
The “founding fathers” sponsors of the Elkin Jaycees Freedom Fest are Allstar Rentals, the town of Elkin, Tri-County Orthropedic and Sports Medicine, G&B Energy, and Secure South Professional Security and Fire.
“We have a lot of support through our businesses, the town of Elkin, and a tremendous effort placed into the event with all of our members. We really rely on our sponsors, because they get the most of what you see; the bounce houses, the entertainment, the food, and the fireworks. They really bring it all together, so without our community support, none of this would happen,” said Gentry.
Gentry added that individual members each take a role, such as securing vendors, finding sponsors, setup, even cleaning up when the event has concluded. The organization volunteers were blanketing the park selling raffle tickets for a grill donated by Lowe’s Home Improvement. Also for sale were glow sticks, necklaces, bracelets and wands, and new for children were temporary tattoos. Proceeds benefit additional charities supported by the Jaycees.
Gentry said the Elkin Jaycees structured the venue to ensure maximum opportunity for their sponsors, too.
“If you notice, nobody overlaps. So for example, if Sheetz is selling hot dogs, we try to make sure they’re the only vendor selling the product. Doing this allows all of our vendors to make a bit of money, too. We want this to be a wonderful day for them, too,” said Gentry.
Avril Hernandez, 10, of Elkin Elementary School, didn’t eat a hot dog, but she was interrupted while she was eating fried dough. Hernandez was just awarded “most patriotic female” by the Elkin Jaycees at Freedom Fest. In between bites, Hernandez said, “It feels great. I feel special,” and even posed for a photo opportunity.
As families continued to show up at Freedom Fest, they inched closer to the stage. Fried Pies, an all-genre band from Wilkesboro, provided the entertainment. Donnie Story, Billy Gee, Jody Call and Dennis Shaw transitioned songs from the ’70s to more recent hits. Vocalist Donnie Story said the band has been together since 2000.
“Yea, since 2000. As you can imagine with life and how busy everyone can get, we get together about once a year. So this is our annual reunion show. It’s amazing that we remember the stuff that we do, because we do play a ton of different stuff. Look at this turnout. It’s amazing. It makes us want to keep playing,” said Story.
Shortly after 9 p.m., Fried Pies, along with more than 1,000 spectators observed a fireworks presentation by Hale Artificier Fireworks. The operator was Chris Higgs.
“We get the money for the fireworks from the town. Then the company owner (Jeff Hale) really works with us. Fireworks are very expensive. We are excited,” said Gentry. According to town budget records, the Elkin Jaycees received a special appropriation of $4,000 for the annual fireworks presentation.
Gentry was asked about changing the day of celebrating Independence Day to July 5 instead of holding the event on the traditional night of July 4.
“When we started this, we wanted to make sure that the celebration was all weekend. The date was moved because of scheduling. It was really nice not being in competition with others though. We wanted Freedom Fest to be exactly what it was meant to be. We wanted people to go to other places on July 4 and then come celebrate with us on July 5,” said Gentry.
“Look at the results,” she said.
Anthony Gonzalez may be reached at 336-835-1513 or on Twitter @newsgonz.