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Children’s Festival Returns

Annual event occurs this Sunday at Village Centre in Great Falls.

Although the weather might be a little too chilly to tell, the Great Falls Optimist Club and Adeler Jewelers are ready for the annual Children’s Festival to take over the Village Centre this Sunday, March 20 — a sure sign of spring in the community.

“We’ll have an Easter egg hunt for the children, filled with chocolate candy and gems,” said Angela Bongiorno, co-chair of the event.

The Children’s Festival is the biggest fund-raiser for the Optimist Club, with proceeds going to help children in Fairfax County.

“We provide Thanksgiving and Christmas meals to needy families and also try to meet their Christmas gift wish list,” she said.

In addition, some of the families have children in need of special-education classes for emotional disabilities, she said, and in the past some of the money has gone toward purchasing special equipment for classrooms.

“We’ve purchased computers, word processors, LCD projectors, anything to help the teachers and make it easier for the students,” she said.

THIS YEAR, there will be additional donation containers placed throughout the festival area, where donations for the International Optimist Club’s current project, funding cancer research for children.

“The International Optimists are trying to raise $1 million for cancer research at Johns Hopkins,” said T.R. Cook, president of the Great Falls Optimist Club. “This is our flagship program this year.”

The money from admission tickets and other donations will remain in Great Falls, he said, to help needy children. “Sometimes we’ll have a scholarship or help purchase band instruments,” he said.

A veteran of several Children’s Festivals, Cook said his favorite part of the day is “seeing the smiles on the faces of the children. It’s absolutely beautiful. Plus, this is an occasion where parents attend with their children, they don’t just send them along alone,” he said.

Cook thanks the many volunteers from Great Falls who come out every year to help with the festivities. “They’re the ones who make it a success. Everyone thoroughly enjoys it,” he said.

The Festival began as a way for Adeler Jewelers to thank the community for its support, said Wendy Adeler Hall, whose father began the celebration about 15 years ago.

“He’s very community-minded and always wanted to do something like this,” she said.

During the course of the day, there will be an ongoing egg hunt for children under the 3, she said, with older children having a different area to hunt in to allow for a more equitable outing.

“WE HAVE AN age limit and two separate areas so that shy children can have a fair chance,” she said. “Three- and 4- year-olds can have one parent with them in the egg hunt area, but ages 5 through 10 are on their own.”

The eggs all contain chocolate, but some of the 6,000 to 8,000 eggs will contain gems, donated by Adeler's Jewelers.

“We usually hide about $5,000 of gems mixed in,” Adeler said. “Typically, the gems include amethyst, garnet, peridot, blue topaz, citrine, some rubies and emeralds, all the typical birthstones,” she said.

In addition, local vendors have sponsored some rides, like a moon bounce, a mini Ferris wheel and a tilt-a-whirl for the children to enjoy, she said.

“The $8 per child admission gives each child a bracelet that’s good for unlimited rides,” she said. “We don’t charge the parents admission, but they’re free to make donations.”

The event will take place rain or shine, Adeler said, and parents can call 703-759-4076 starting at 9 a.m. that day if the weather is bad to find out when the event will start. Tickets will be available beginning at 11 a.m. in the Village Centre’s stores.