LIVINGSTON, NJ — Livingston children were invited to sing along, dance and play a variety of instruments during a special Youth Appreciation Week (YAW) performance by children’s entertainer Mr. Ray at the Livingston Community Center to celebrate the 21st annual YAW.

The two-hour concert featured classic children’s tunes like “If You’re Happy and You Know It” and “Head Shoulders Knees and Toes” as well as the musician’s original songs.

Alan Karpas, president of Healthy Community Healthy Youth (HCHY) and lead coordinator of YAW, recognizes children’s love for music. According to Karpas, it was important to bring a children’s performer in the spirit of this week’s events.

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“Everything this week is about the kids,” said Karpas.

Mr. Ray, also known as Ray Andersen, began performing for children in 1994 when a friend invited him to perform at a day camp. After the camp’s director hired Andersen to sing for her kids part-time, his newfound career sparked.

“That was it for me,” said Andersen. “I have a rapport with children and elderly folks, and I just love kids.”

Andersen said he wanted to make the concert as interactive as possible. Since he felt the venue’s stage placed him too far from the children, he moved to the floor next to their seats. According to Andersen, he often does this to make performances more intimate, letting kids strum his guitar and sing solos.

Children and parents filled the performance space, many joining Mr. Ray in front. Three-year-old Kiera Yong danced along with the eager crowd of spectators. According to her mother, Livingston resident Yong Yong, this was a big feat.

“She’s usually a shy kid so I’m really happy that she’s in front,” said Yong. “She sings a lot at home so I like concerts that draw her out to be with the crowd.”

Yong has taken her children to several YAW events, including the LEGOs workshop with Stephen Schwartz. She said that Kiera has enjoyed spending time and playing with other kids, and her son built a windmill he was very proud of. They look forward to the family festival at the Livingston Town Oval on Saturday.

Youth Appreciation Week concluded with the annual Diversity Festival at the West Essex YMCA on Sunday.

This article was written by Molly Glick, a Morristown-Beard High School senior, as part of the TAP into Livingston internship program. Molly recently committed to Northwestern University to study Journalism in the fall.