LIVINGSTON, NJ - In honor of Livingston’s 18th Annual Youth Appreciation Week, members and nonmembers from across the Livingston community gathered at the YMCA to enjoy an international fashion show, ethnic food sampling and cultural song and dance performances from around the world free of charge on Thursday.
More than a dozen tables from different countries were set up for all to visit, many of which featured a taste of that country’s culture including a sample of its ethnic cuisine. Well known for being a township collaborator, the YMCA’s mission is to address the needs of the community. This festival served as a celebration of not only Livingston’s youth, but also its cultural and social diversity.
“This is a festival that celebrates the diversity of our community and how we are all both alike and different, and reminds us how beautiful that is,” Associate Executive Director Cheryl Francione said. “I am always just overjoyed with this celebration.”
One of the YMCA’s key areas of focus is youth development. This town-wide event is a way for Livingston’s youth to learn about other cultures, take pride in their own heritage or to simply spend time with friends.
“At the Y we’re all about youth development, so this festival is a perfect fit for our mission,” Francione said. “People of every race, religion, creed, ethnicity and physical ability can partake in this fabulous international event. This occasion represents Livingston’s diversity at its best.”
Throughout the evening, children partook in an activity that involved travelling to the various tables, collecting country stamps and applying them to a YMCA-made passport in order to receive a goody bag at the event’s conclusion. The children and their families simultaneously enjoyed diverse international treats as well as cultural performances by local music and dance groups.
Ultimately, this annual diversity festival is an opportunity for local youth to learn about other cultures, while also taking pride in their own individual heritage.
“I love the exposure the kids get to other cultures, but it’s also a really fun and safe environment,” Marnie McNany, mother of 12-year-old Mary McNany, said. “It’s amazing having the tables combined with the performances because it captures each child’s attention.”
Many of the children enjoy participating every year, while others, like the Cub Scouts, the Livingstones, the Starliners and the Huaxia School find excitement in performing for the annually-growing crowd.
Thursday’s Youth Appreciation Week events also included the annual Stuff the Bus Food Drive. Each year, Livingston’s Community Hunger Outreach Warehouse (CHOW) makes itself available for residents who fall on challenging times, while also serving as a feeder to other local food pantries and soup kitchens in the area including the Interfaith Food Pantry, Apsotle House, Mother Theresa's and Oheb Shalom Bobrow Kosher Food Pantry.
The bus made stops at The West Essex Tribune, Schneck Law Firm in collaboration with Centrock Group, Kings, The Livingston Mall, The Westminster Hotel and Pediatric Potentials. The bus also stopped at The JCC preschool in West Orange, Newark Academy and The West Essex YMCA.
YAW Chairperson Alan Karpas and other event sponsors said they sincerely thank the participating businesses as well as the community for its ongoing support of this initiative.