Saturday was a beautiful morning for the first community kickoff celebration for the United Way of Ellis County’s 2016 campaign at Aubel-Bickle Park. The theme for the event was “Heroes for Change,” and children were encouraged to wear their superhero costumes while honoring some of Ellis County’s own hometown heroes.
Sherry Dryden, executive director for United Way of Ellis County, welcomed the children, parents, agencies and volunteers at 10 a.m. to start the fun.
“I would like to welcome you to the fun events we have planned here at this beautiful park and we are very blessed to have a picture-perfect day,” Dryden said. “I see a lot of little superheros out here today and that is awesome.”
The American Legion Riders were present with their flag line and color guard; they led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance.
United Way board member and First Presbyterian Church pastor Celeste Lasich began the event with an invocation.
Sponsors for the event included the Dane G. Hansen Foundation and Sunflower Electric, along with Midwest Energy, a campaign sponsor this year. Dryden thanked the City of Hays for the use of the park, as well as the Hays Daily News, Nex-Tech and Eagle Communications for their help.
McDonald’s of Hays provided drinks for the event.
Dryden then introduced another group of superheroes: the United Way’s partner agencies, asking each one to give a brief description of the work they do in the community. CASA of the High Plains, PACT (Parents and Children Together), Employment Connections with DSNWK, Kansas Legal Services, Options — Domestic and Sexual Violence Services, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Girl Scouts of Kansas Heartland, Cancer Council of Ellis County, Hays Area Children’s Center, United Cerebral Palsy Association and First Call for Help were in attendance.
“Last year these agencies provided 18,000 services for families in Ellis County,” Dryden said.
Dryden emphasized the main reason for the event, which was recognizing first responders and military as members of law enforcement, emergency medical services, fire and military including the American Legion Riders were in attendance.
“They all have or currently wear badges and uniforms,” Dryden said. “This event is to give all of us the opportunity to meet our Ellis County hometown heroes and thank them for all that they do.”
Representatives from the Kansas Highway Patrol, Hays Police Department, National Guard, Ellis County Sheriff’s Office, Ellis County EMS and City of Hays Fire and Rescue addressed the crowd to thank them for their support.
Volunteers distributed flags to the children present and Ron Bennett, director of the American Legion Riders, discussed flag etiquette with the kids.
“Everybody loves parades and going to football games,” Bennett said. “At the start of those things, you always have the color guard, so it’s important to know what we do to properly salute our flag.”
Bennett then encouraged the children to wave their little flags.
“Be proud of that flag,” Bennett said.
He added when they see the flag coming, they should stand up tall, put their hand over their heart and remove their hat. That’s how they can pay proper respect for the flag and the people that gave all to protect the flag. Bennett also told the kids when they see someone in a military uniform, they should stop them and thank them for all they do.
“We all got taught this in school,” Bennett told the crowd. “But I don’t know if they are getting taught this as much, so we as parents need to teach them.”
The children then got to participate in a Cape Coloring Contest and a Sidewalk Art Contest. Rides from the Nex-tech Express entertained the kids as well as other games provided by the partner agencies. Those present got to sit on the motorcycles and explore the firetruck and cop cars. Candy and other treats were distributed in addition to prizes awarded for the best superhero costume. Approximately 50 children attended the event.
The United Way has set its fundraising goal at $450,000 for this year.