Kids’ fair entertains – and teaches civic responsibility

Here’s why this fun little town – which exists only one day each year – continues to attract hundreds of families with children to Ventura Park …

Volunteers Jan Clayton, Senait Desta, and Feleke Fanta welcome potential citizens to the mythical town called “SunnyCity” – which magically appeared on this sunny Sunday in Ventura Park.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
It might seem like a lot of effort to build a miniature town, where for only one day children can interact with people who serve our community, in a fun and unique way.

But, it’s a labor of love for the volunteers who set up and run “SunnyCity” each year, in the Hazelwood Neighborhood’s Ventura Park, according to its organizers.

Although it’s a hot afternoon, more about 500 folks enjoy their day at SunnyCity – reports its “Mayor”, Natalia Gramada.

“This is our fourth year of presenting SunnyCity,” said Mayor Natalia Gramada (the event’s manager), as we toured this make-believe village.

“The idea of this is to get the community together, and inspire children to become great citizens,” Gramada explains. “We are teaching them how community works, and how businesses and organizations interact with government, and work together.”

Giving a thrilling demonstration of aerial skills, high up on Portland Fire & Rescue Truck 7’s extended ladder, is Lt. Shon Christensen.

Members of the Portland Police Bureau came by, providing “public safety” – as did a crew from Portland Fire & Rescue’s outer East Portland Mill Park Station 7 ladder truck.

“It’s important for our youth to learn how businesses make money, and spend money,” Gramada continued. “And it’s most important that we learn how to make our communities stronger by voting.”

At the East Portland Neighborhood Office coalition booth, young citizen Olivia Stine asks to have her “passport” stamped by Hazelwood Neighborhood Association Chair Arlene Kimura – while she learns the role that neighborhood organizations play in outer East Portland.

In addition, the town has “offices” for community-service organizations, including one for the East Portland Neighborhood Office coalition. “We also give the families a lot of resources from which they can draw, and we do it in a really fun way.”

While taking in the sights at SunnyCity, kids get stamps in their “passport” – and when they collect stamps from each of the three different areas, they become “citizens” of SunnyCity. “This gives them the right to vote for the favorite booth,” Gramada pointed out.

It’s not all just civic duties at SunnyCity: Adelaide Walker spends some of her SunnyMoney to have her face made up by artist Michelle Marin.

“And, voting gives them the privilege of playing in the inflatable house. They have to earn their citizenship, and then they get privileges as citizens – much like in real life.”

The free event is put on by the nearby Sunnyside Seventh-day Adventist Church in the Mill Park Neighborhood. “But we have many, many organizations to help us with this on,” Gramada said.

The next day, SunnyCity had again vanished – but we’re sure many kids dream of seeing this magical town appear again, as it will, next year.

After earning their citizenship, kids get the privilege of playing in this giant two-story bounce house.

© 2012 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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