The Westminster Department of Recreation and Parks added a few new attractions to Fallfest this year to celebrate its 40th year — and can staff those attractions with the minimum of 80 volunteers recruited by each of its beneficiaries.
Fallfest began in 1978 as a way to support charitable organizations in Carroll County through financial contributions, said parks and rec Director Abby Gruber.
And it has grown since that first year.
“To recognize its 40th anniversary we added some new exciting things,” she said. “This year we have the hot dog pig racing — which is not only pig racing but dachshunds will hot dog costumes — and Charm City Helicopters is offering aerial tours of Westminster. And tonight we will have a custom-made laser show at 10 p.m. when the last band ends. It was made custom for us.”
Also new is a pumpkin patch for kids.
The Carroll County Special Olympics, Lions Club of Westminster, Together We Own It and Tender Care are the organizations benefiting from Fallfest this year.
Tender Care’s executive director Vince Pacelli stood by the scarecrow-making station in the shade with his volunteers on Saturday.
He said the organization is 30 years old and started in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, before making its way to Westminster in 2012.
“We help people dealing with unexpected and unplanned pregnancies,” Pacelli said. “We offer pregnancy tests, classes, [and supplies]. We’re just a resource for those women and their families. Previously it was called a ‘crisis pregnancy,’ but we don’t want it to be a crisis.”
Tender Care helps at least 1,000 women and their families per year, he said, and also offers mentoring programs for new mothers.
And although the organization has only been in the county for six years and at Fallfest for two, Pacelli said the donations it receives from the event make a big difference.
“We rely on some major fundraisers each year, such as this one,” he said. “We get money in Pennsylvania for parenting classes, but you can see how money from Fallfest is critical.”
Last year they received more than $5,000 from the event.
Carroll County Special Olympics
Also volunteering at and benefiting from Fallfest is the Carroll County Special Olympics.
The organization is more than 40 years old and receives donations from the harvest event as well as from its bingo each March and November.
Area Director Laurie Brewer, in between working the bingo stand and with volunteers Saturday, told the Times that the organization is often misunderstood.
“People think it’s only once a year,” Brewer said, “but it’s year round. We have spring games in April at Westminster High, but we have 17 sports throughout the year with the same seasons as the schools: fall, winter and spring.”
She said the Carroll County Special Olympics participates in qualifiers and state games all year, with weekly practices and all, and has about 175 participants from across Carroll — so fundraising helps keep it all running smoothly.
“We just bought a trailer for kayaks,” Brewer said, “and our spring games each year cost us $4,000 to $5,000.”
Together We Own It
Together We Own It drew 130 volunteers to the Fallfest this year, some of them youth that participate in the organization’s programs.
“We serve youth 0 to 18 [years old] who come to us struggling with anything from bullying to mental health issues,” said Executive Director Katie Kirby at the information booth in her red Fallfest T-shirt.
“We focus on meeting basic needs and helping kids work on goals,” she said.
Kirby founded the organization when she was still in college in Salisbury, but made Westminster its headquarters when she graduated and moved back home. Together We Own It supports about 230 kids across the state, she said, with about 150 of them in Carroll.
And many of those kids are volunteering their time this weekend at the event.
“A lot of them feel disengaged from the community so a big thing is community service,” Kirby said.
Fifteen-year-old Winters Mill High School student Zach Durante started going to Together We Own It earlier this summer after a suggestion from his mother.
“I'm a troubled kid who has trouble with stuff,” he said Saturday, “my depression and everything.”
Durante is one of the many kids volunteering at Fallfest this year, and for him it’s his first community service gig with Together We Own It.
He said it’s really helping him stay positive and get involved with the community.
Kirby said there are also kids from Carroll County Public Schools looking to complete community service hours that are also volunteering with the organization for the event.
Lions Club of Westminster
“One hundred percent of our proceeds go back to the community — in the form of scholarships or donations,” said Lions Club Secretary Kerri Crunkilton from the Lions Club food truck this weekend — in between asking the fry cook for cheese steaks, chicken tenders and fries.
The Lions Club of Westminster has been around since 1940 but has only been a beneficiary of Fallfest for about four or five years, said Lions Club First Vice President Susan Locascio. It sponsors: Maryland Eye Bank, Maryland School for the Blind, Lions Camp Merrick, Lion Leader Dog Program, Lion Vision Research, Lion Club International Foundation and organizations across Carroll County.
Scholarships offered by the Lions Club include a one-year scholarship for $2,000 to one student at Westminster and Winters Mills high schools, and two $1,000 scholarships to students at Carroll County Career and Technology Center.
“We also give out hospital equipment to people in need,” Locascio said. “Anything we make [at fundraisers] goes right back into the community.”
“We’ve been doing this for a few years now,” said Jalna Brown, a past president. “We are really excited to be here.”
For the Lions Club, Fallfest is one of its last fundraisers of the year. In addition to Fallfest, a wood sign painting class will occur sometime in November with details to be posted on its Facebook page and website.
More details on the Westminster Fallfest, including hours, ticket deals, bands and special events, can be found at www.westminsterfallfest.com.