On a sunny Friday Afternoon in June, the Summit Area YMCA hosted its first Pride Event at Columbia Park in Berkeley Heights.

This first-of-its-kind event was to provide a venue for our local community to show its support of the LGBTQ community. June has been designated as the month to celebrate LGBTQ pride worldwide. According to the Library of Congress, “Celebrations include pride parades, picnics, parties, workshops, symposia and concerts. In addition to memorials, the purpose of this commemorative month is to he purpose of the commemorative month is to recognize the impact that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals have had on history locally, nationally, and internationally.”

The Summit Area YMCA strives to provide a welcoming and inclusive environment where daily operations and programs support the well-being and safety of all individuals.

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“After a couple of months in anticipation we finally had our very first Summit Area Y Pride event! It was a great success, and all involved were very proud of the event. We had lots of families and community members come and join us for a beautiful afternoon of activities. We could not have asked for better weather, or for a more positive, supportive event.” said Tiffany Escott, Executive Director of the Berkeley Heights YMCA. “Everyone was in great spirits, and it was just wonderful everyone coming together to celebrate and show their support for each other and for the LGBTQ community. We are already thinking about next year and how to make it even bigger and better!”

Making it nearly impossible to miss, a huge archway of rainbow colored balloons by the park gazebo marked the event. Crowds of all ages and all localities, from high school and middle school students, senior couples to families with young children, all came with the same mindset -- to celebrate pride, acceptance, tolerance and love. Some painted their faces, many donned rainbow-colored clothing but all were enjoying the spirit of the afternoon by participating in activities like potato sack races, parachute games, a picnic and raffle. Some etched expressions like “Don’t Hate-Celebrate! And “Be Kind–We love All” in washable chalk on the playground blacktop while others enjoyed quiet picnics with their friends and families.

Members from the Berkeley Heights Diversity Council were at the event handing out rainbow bracelets with information about the council. Karen Foote, the President of the Council, said “I’ve had such great feedback from so many people who have said what a meaningful event it was.” Several students from local high schools helped in the planning of this event and expressed a need for a community event for people to come, have fun and celebrate.

Francesca Garrard, Program Director at the Berkeley Heights YMCA put it best, “As a Y leader, I think events like this (among the many other events we do!) are so important to show the community, and the surrounding area that the Y is a safe place to come, no matter who you are, who you love, where you come from or what you earn. This local event is one small way to show local people young or old that the Y and many, many people are there for them, love them, and support them; and we hope to continue with even more LGBTQ focused programming in the future. If by holding this event, we help one person see that there is support out there, we have done our jobs and we have made a difference, and that is what the Y constantly strives to do.”

The Summit Area YMCA works together with staff, volunteers, members and community partners to welcome, serve and provide learning opportunities, in addition to being a community haven for health, wellness and youth development. Together, the Summit Area YMCA and its partners work to ensure every individual regardless of ability, age, race, sexual orientation, background, faith, income or ethnicity has a chance to thrive and reach their full potential.

To learn more about the Summit Area YMCA’s role as a Diversity and Inclusion Global Innovation Network center, please visit www.theSAY.org/DIG.

For more fun upcoming events, visit www.theSAY.org/calendar

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The Summit Area YMCA is one of the area’s leading 501(c)3 charitable organizations. Founded in 1886, the Summit Area YMCA has a history steeped in working side-by-side with our neighbors to ensure that everyone, regardless of age, income and background, has the opportunity to learn, grow and thrive. Each year, we serve more than 10,000 individuals with our free and fee-based programs and services in an area spanning the communities of Berkeley Heights, New Providence, Millburn, Springfield, Short Hills, Summit, Gillette, and Stirling. Through the generosity of our members, donors, and partners, we are able to offer financial assistance for our programs and services to those with demonstrated need. To strengthen your community and provide others with the opportunity to learn, grow, and thrive, make your tax-deductible donation today at www.theSAY.org/give.