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Freedom Fair, Fireworks Festival a success, despite sweltering heat

New Castle News - 7/23/2019

Jul. 22--Sweltering heat made for a sparse afternoon crowd Saturday as DON Services launched its second-annual Freedom Fair Fireworks Festival on the streets of downtown New Castle.

But the crowd grew as the day went on, and by evening the streets were clogged with people who were there not only to eat and buy creative swords, magic wands and mylar balloons for their children, but to hear local musical talent and await a spectacular fireworks display at the end of the evening.

When Disability Options Network (DON) Services took over the annual fireworks festival last year, its staff wanted to make it an event that combined the patriotic theme of freedom with the significance of fireworks, explained Steve Cardella, DON's executive vice president of operations.

When the Visit Lawrence County agency gave up the fireworks festival, "we kind of gravitated toward it," Cardella said. "It was a great opportunity to combine the two events, freedom and fireworks. It was a natural connection."

The event offers something for everyone in Lawrence County, he said. One section of a block was limited to political campaigning. Another section offered a variety of ethnic food -- Middle Eastern, Mexican and Italian -- and a bakery, Uzi's Pastries of DuBois, that featured fancy desserts.

A tall man walking around the streets on stilts doubled as a juggler to thrill the children. Jeff Bach of Erie said he measures 9-feet, 3-inches tall. He knows that, because he knows how tall he is, and he knows how tall he made his stilts. A pretty long pair of black pants were also made to fit him.

He's had plenty of practice walking on the stilts, as an act, along with the juggling, that he acquired years ago while performing with a circus, he said. He said DON hired him for the festival.

There were carnival concessions where stuffed animals were yours for the winning, and the outside amphiteater at Riverwalk showcased concerts throughout the day. People then flocked to the west side of the downtown to watch the fireworks spectacular presented by Zambelli Internationale.

Cardella credited Shelley McConnell and Anita McKeever of DON services for their hard work and planning of the entire event.

"They were the brains in everything you see here," he said.

The former Main Street Clothiers building, which was purchased by Bob Bullano, was opened and staff with volunteers for people to escape the sweltering heat and get drinks and food while sitting in the air conditioned space.

Outside, misting lawn sprinklers were set up for people who wanted to get a little wet to cool off from the 90 degrees-plus temperatures and humidity.

McConnell and McKeever said they started planning the event a year ago, just after the last one ended.

This year's fair featured plenty of activities for children, including face painting, a giant blowup of a unicorn, a balloon artist, Lego-building contest and a children's fashion show that took place in Zambelli Park.

A hot dog-eating contest was going on outside of Coney Island restaurant, and in the evening in a downtown bank parking lot, a basketball playoff game was staged between Special Olympics and DON's construction team, the members of which have been rehabbing houses on the city's Lower East Side.

DON also sponsored its own booth, distributing information about the agency, disabilities, programs and help for people with disabilities who need work or housing.

"This started Saturday morning with the farmer's market," The co-chairs pointed out.

Logan McCarthy, a local vocalist, sang the National Anthem to open the event. Other music was provided by the Night Crawlers; Lawrence County Brass, which strolled through the streets; the Dante DiThomas swing band; Train Wreck; and The Dorals.

The event was the second of a two-day weekend, following Rockin' the River, a benefit for the Pennsylvania Wounded Warriors.

For both events, the fireworks were sponsored by DON Services.

dwachter@ncnewsonline.com.

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(c)2019 New Castle News (New Castle, Pa.)

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