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Families flock to Mardi Gras celebration

March 06, 2006|by DAVE McMILLION

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Did you know that kids generally have a positive view of their future, even if they live in a tough environment?

That's what Chris Merritt wants parents to realize.

Although many children naturally have that trait, it is important for parents to foster it, said Merritt, adolescent health coordinator for the Region 8 organization.

That was one of many tips Merritt had for parents Sunday afternoon at the seventh annual Mardi Gras Celebration of the Family at the Moose Lodge 120 on Woodbury Avenue.

The event - which resembles a New Orleans Mardi Gras celebration - is designed to give kids and their families a safe environment to enjoy activities. It grew out of a West Virginia governor's summit in 1997 that was held to promote important issues for kids such as safe environments, caring adults and healthy programs, organizers said.

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There is education in addition to fun at the event, which is sponsored by Family Resource Network.

The tip about ensuring kids to have a positive view about their future was included in a 2006 Parent Calendar being distributed by Merritt.

The calendar lists 40 assets children should have to help them mature to responsible adulthood and to help them avoid high-risk behaviors.

Other assets included positive family communication, caring neighborhoods, caring school environment and "social competencies" such as interpersonal competence.

Interpersonal competence is having empathy, sensitivity and friendship skills, according to the calendar.

The Mardi Gras celebration has been attracting dozens of kids and parents since it started and Sunday's event marked the first time it sold out in advance, said Judy Boykin, who helps organize the event.

The 375 tickets were sold by Thursday, Boykin said.

Organizers said the big turnout shows there is a need to provide more events in the area that focus on families.

With so many serious issues to think about these days, like the Patriot Act and terrorism, Boykin said it is important to have an event in which people can dress up and have fun. Kids and parents at Sunday's celebration wore beads like those seen at Mardi Gras in New Orleans.

"We're all too serious. This is an escape. This is a wonderful escape, actually," said Boykin, executive director of the Family Resource Network.

Kids and parents enjoyed activities such as puppet shows, arts and crafts, face painting, drawings for hundreds of door prizes, dancing and food.

Martinsburg resident Bob Johnson, who was dressed up as a pirate, said he likes to come to the event because it focuses on families. Johnson, who attended the celebration with his three children, said he loves the Mardi Gras celebration in New Orleans and just returned from that area last week doing volunteer work.

Johnson said it is still hard to imagine what people are enduring as a result of Hurricane Katrina and said it is important that everyone remember what they went through.

"If we let that slip from public consciousness, it's going to be a disgrace," Johnson said.

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