BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - The huge archway of rainbow-colored balloons by the Columbia Park gazebo was hard to miss, and served as a welcoming gateway as people of all ages and localities -- including high school and middle school students, senior couples to families with young children -- who came to celebrate pride, acceptance, tolerance and love as the Summit Area YMCA hosted its first-ever PRIDE event.

Some painted their faces, many donned rainbow-colored clothing but all were enjoyed 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 in the sunshine with their friends and families.

This first-of-its-kind event was an effort by the Summit Area YMCA to provide a venue for the local community to show its support of the LGBTQ community. June has been designated as the month to celebrate LGBTQ pride worldwide.

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“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.”

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.”

Francesca Garrard, Program Director at the Berkeley Heights YMCA, said, “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's stated commitment is to work 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, thereby ensuring that 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 theSAY.org/DIG.