COLUMBIA — Parents bobbed for resources while kids bobbed for apples on Saturday at the first Tiger Family Fest.
Spread across the field behind the ParentLink office, more than 14 family-friendly businesses handed out free pamphlets and snacks to attendees and hosted activities. All gathered in an effort to promote family and community development. Health and safety advocates provided information and guidance for parents while kids played in haystacks and decorated pumpkins among other things.
ParentLink is a statewide, grant-funded program through the MU College of Education, with an emphasis on helping mid-Missouri parents.
Carol Mertensmeyer, director of ParentLink, said it held the event to raise funds and community awareness of the program's services and to celebrate Make-A-Difference Month, a national effort geared towards volunteerism and community engagement.
The event kicked off with a 5k race. One runner, Elise Huey, 8, played in the kids' area with her brother after crossing the finish line.
"I was having lots of fun," she said of the race. "I wish I could do this again some day."
Vendors such as New York Deli Restaurant and Catering Service, Smokin’ Chick’s BBQ and The Gold Nugget Popcorn Company, sold their products to benefit the program.
Meg Roodhouse, the ParentLink project manger, said 15 percent of all vendor sales went directly to ParentLink.
“We had quite a few people who couldn’t exhibit," she said, "So they offered items for the raffle." These included music, food and gift certificates.
Safe Kids Columbia, a branch of Safe Kids Worldwide, donated booster seats, and My Life Clinic set up a diaper-changing station and rest area for parents, Roodhouse said. Attendees could also buy Scholastic Inc. books on sale in the ParentLink building.
Parents, such as Annette Jostes, 46, of Columbia, came to let their children play, and stayed to gather the parenting resources. Jostes’ original plan was to “keep the kids busy on a Saturday,” she said. Although she has never used ParentLink, she said she might use its resources in the future.
Kids could take their pick among several activities including:
- Arts and crafts sponsored by Andrew Stone Optometry.
- Free books donated by Columbia's Finest Child Development Center.
- Hayrides supported by the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources.
- Kids corral sponsored by EDC, an electronic design corporation.
- Bounce houses sponsored by First Midwest Bank and Century 21.
- Face painting by the Foundation for the Higher Good.
- Apple bobbing and pumpkin decorating provided by Fahrmeier Farms.
Members of the Columbia United Football Club, a recreational youth soccer team, personalized pumpkins for a contest whose proceeds will benefit an orphanage in Nepal.
“I just feel like helping out people and being with my friends and having a good time,” said Alex Wimer, 10, as he took a break from decorating. Wimer and his teammates agreed they enjoyed helping others.
“It feels good,” he said. “I get this fuzzy feeling in my stomach.”
ParentLink opens its doors to every parent in need, Mertensmeyer said.
"Outreach and service are part of the mission of a land-grant university, and we were glad to help fulfill that," she said.
MU students can work as interns and volunteers for ParentLink. MU student Laneé Bridewell, 23, who is a member of the Cub Hub staff, attested to the benefits of the program's resources.
The Cub Hub is a ParentLink program that offers student-parents free childcare so they can study on Monday and Wednesday nights. MU students watch the children as a form of service learning.
For Bridewell, seeing the people she helps is what she enjoys most.
“It’s so tangible,” Bridewell said. “You don’t have to go through any red tape. It’s a lot easier to see the results of their work when they’re not asking people to fight through bureaucracy.”