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Portage to celebrate cultural diversity

Written by ryan. Posted in Uncategorized

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Published on April 06, 2011 with No Comments

by Carl Kurek

It takes a great many people from all walks of life to set the framework for a community that is unique, open-minded and prosperous. The city of Portage is no exception;  the Portage Youth Commission felt it was essential to bring the community together for a day of celebrating its diversity.

Zak Spurlock, a junior at Portage High School, led the rest of the Portage Youth Commission in launching the first-ever city Cultural Festival. Cultural Festival 2011 is set April 10 in Sycamore Hall at Woodland Park from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m.

“I know there are a lot of diverse cultures in the area and I just wanted to show people the different aspects of those cultures,” he said.

While Spurlock did come up with the idea for the event and even wrote a proposal that led to the securing of a grant from the Porter County Community Foundation, he said his fellow PYC members are all helping to make the event possible.

Besides Spurlock, this year’s members include Chairman A.J. Laramie, Vice Chairman Conner Haupt, Secretary Lauryn Alyea and Emily Dominguez and Mackenzie Widener.

Each commission member chairs different events – such as the Pet Parade set for later this month – but they all play a role in making the events a fun experience for the community.

The PYC, founded in 2003, is a group made up of high school students who get to experience first-hand what it takes to be involved in city government and community organization.

“The goal of the commission is to engage youth in action at a civil level,” Portage Mayor Olga Velazquez, who founded and mentors the commission, said.

“They get to learn what it takes to engage the community, the best way to interact with the community and they also get to lean about partnership.”

And learn they did, according to Spurlock.

“It’s shown me that it’s not all about skipping and daisies; there’s stuff that needs to get done. It’s also shown me how to organize a lot of stuff and how to reason with a lot of people,” he said.

“Before this I wouldn’t have ever thought about going to a group and asking for stuff. It’s made me more social.”

Spurlock said the Cultural Festival is meant not only to be fun, but educational as well. He said all of the groups participating in the event were told they could do whatever they wanted – serve food, play music, display art – but they were all required to have information about their culture ready to pass out to people who walk past their group.

It has been a little difficult, however, to find groups willing to participate. The PYC was set on booking about 20 groups, but has only been able to get 11 on board. Spurlock is confident the event will be nevertheless successful.

“It has been a little bit of a struggle, and getting everything meshed together is hard because everyone on the commission is busy with other stuff too,” he said. “But the groups we do have are very involved. I couldn’t be happier with them.”

Cultures that attendees can learn about at the festival include German, Polish, Mexican, Puerto Rican, Swedish and Serbian, for which the mayor will be responsible. Velazquez, who is of Serbian descent, will be educating attendees about her culture not only by speaking and passing out literature, but by putting on display at the event different cultural pieces she borrowed from her church’s museum.

The mayor said she is looking forward to participating in the festival and is confident the event will do just what the PYC intended.

“Their goal was to engage the many cultures represented in our own community and the surrounding areas, and we can create a greater understanding of various cultures through things like food and art,” she said.

Spurlock said the PYC hopes to make the Cultural Festival an annual event, but will have to wait and gauge the community’s response to it.

“If we can do it again in the future, we will see how we can improve it. Once people get wind of it, it will be easier,” he said.

But he is proud to be a part of such an organization and event regardless of the turnout.

“I’m being a positive aspect in society, and I know there are kids my age out there doing bad stuff,” he said. “It makes me feel great; it makes me feel like I’m part of something bigger.”

For more information about the PYC or Cultural Festival 2011, call 219-762-5425, or visit www.ci.portage.in.us.

Cultural Festival 2011

Where: Sycamore Hall at Woodland Park in Portage

Time: 11 a.m.-5 p.m.

Cost: Free, but donations are accepted

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