By Elizabeth Gelfeld
When you arrive at PEP on Saturday afternoon, March 12, you will enter a building transformed. Instead of the usual, quiet classrooms on the middle and upper floors, you’ll find all three levels filled with light, color and bustling activity. You’ll be greeted at the door by someone with a big smile and maybe in costume, who will direct you to the registration area for participants, or perhaps to the one for volunteers. Participating children get passports; youth volunteers (age 11 and up) get PEP aprons. And then the fun begins.
It feels like magic, but the Can Do Kids Fair, with its dozens of activities organized in eight areas (such as Home Creating, The Good Earth and Game Show), is actually the result of countless hours of preparation by hundreds of volunteers.
This year’s Fair began last October, with a meeting of the steering committee of eight to ten people headed by Frances Badman, PEP’s staff administrator for the past 31 years. The committee members began planning the logistics and brainstorming activities, which vary somewhat from year to year and might include sewing on a button, fixing a dripping faucet, wrapping a gift or writing a thank-you note. There’s something new each year; at this year’s Fair, look for Mindfulness activities for children.
In January preparations started in earnest, with frequent committee meetings and production of fliers, handouts, room maps, directional signs and the Passport to Self-Sufficiency—the little booklet with the spring-green cover that each child gets, to collect stamps and “travel visas” for each area visited.
February features recruiting adult and youth volunteers, 150 to 200 of whom will be needed at the Fair. PEP staff members provide information and prepare for the youth volunteer training, an aspect of the Fair that is at least as important as the activities.
Middle- and high-school kids teach and supervise the activities that the younger children learn and practice at the Fair. The youth volunteers are encouraged to come to one of two pre-Fair training sessions at PEP. “They think they’re coming to learn the activity,” says Frances, but the training they receive is really focused on “communication, interacting with children in encouraging ways—skills that will be useful all their lives.”
As the date of the Fair draws closer, the PEP office hums with preparation. Materials get pulled out of storage, labeled and grouped with their activities. Staff and volunteers go shopping for food (Good Eats area) and lumber (Carpentry) and bring items to loan, such as brooms (What’s Wrong With This Room?) and bicycles (Maintenance).
On Friday, March 11, staff and volunteers will assemble the Fair on all three levels of the building. Floor coverings will be taped down and backdrops for painting put up. Every room will be set with its activity props and signs. Advance food prep (such as slicing and freezing bananas for smoothies) will take place in the kitchens at PEP and at volunteers’ homes. Stamps and stickers for the passports, registration lists and name tags, volunteers’ aprons and the forms for their Student Service Learning credits will be assembled.
Then, on Saturday, March 12, all will be ready for your children and youth volunteers to spend the afternoon “making, doing and fixing” at PEP’s Can Do Kids Fair.
Elizabeth Gelfeld is a PEP Parent Educator and editor of the PEP Blog.
Register now to attend the Can Do Kids Fair, March 12. If you wait, it might be too late—the Fair sells out in advance nearly every year. If your middle- or high-school-age child would like to volunteer and earn SSL hours, call PEP at 301-929-8824 or email cdk@PEPparent.org.