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Appalachian Fairgrounds overcome by Kid Power

• Nov 25, 2014 at 6:16 PM

Kids and parents are the beneficiaries of Kid Power, but more importantly, families benefit the most from having a free family event that also looks to teach general well-being.

About 45 different organizations from across the region set up shop at the Appalachian Fairgrounds on Saturday to give away prizes, provide the opportunity to play games and most notably information in regard to the health of children and their families.

“Hey, we’re going to paint our faces, Mama!” one little girl yelled on her way to the Appalachian Fairground building that held the event. “Like a kitty-kitty!”

She had every chance to do so, as more than a few hundred kids of all ages ran around from table to table having fun, with many getting their faces painted, getting dressed up in balloon pirate and knight outfits and completing art projects that they could take home.

“It’s staying intact pretty well,” said Cody Stapleton, 5, who was one of the balloon pirates running about.

His mother, Michelle Stapleton, said she loved the fact Kid Power is a free event and has been so for 12 years now.

“We brought him out to have some fun and get him out of the house,” Michelle said.

With as many balloon knights as there were walking around, there was also a real knight walking around. John Bynington, whose wife is a nurse at Wellmont’s Holston Valley Medical Center, was on display Saturday, having his photo made with children. His full-body armor, including helmet, isn’t just for show. He had many action photos on hand to show what he does, which is wear his armor on horseback while jousting against competitors.

Many jousters use soft-tipped jousts so the tip dramatically explodes and keeps them safe, but not Bynington. His doesn’t break just for show. He said he spent $5,000 on his suit, but he could have spent up to $13,000. Though he didn’t have the money for the more expensive suit, he joked that it’s hard to put a cost on your internal organs.

Event Chairwoman Melissa Birdwell, who’s been involved in the event for 10 years, said the goal is always the same: to “empower families.” Some of the vendors giving out information included Mountain States Health Alliance, the Natural History Museum in Gray, Wallabies, the Johnson City Police Department, the Tennessee Anti-Tobacco Advocacy Initiative and many more.

Keith Shultz, East Tennessee regional liaison for the anti-tobacco group, was there with a game much like Plinko on “The Price is Right” that gives kids a chance to win a pencil, bracelet or other prize, but also gives him a chance to engage with the kids about the harm of tobacco. He and his wife combat drug and tobacco use through their efforts, and Shultz said he’s happy for the chance to change someone’s life for the better.

“It’s for the kids, but it’s also for everyone,” Shultz said about being at Kid Power.

Next to his informational packets was a plastic jar of a dark, viscous material.

“That’s tar,” he said, explaining that the large sum, around 12 ounces, collects in the lungs of a smoker who smokes just half a pack of cigarettes every day for a year. Getting kids the right information early in their lives can really have a positive change in how they make decisions, he said.

Jan Miles had a popular stop, covered with stickers and books. She was representing the Sullivan County Imagination Library, which gives out about 5,000 books a year to children for free.

Miles said the goal for the day was “to give away free books.” The library works in conjunction with the statewide program spearheaded by Dollywood to get as many books into eager kids’ hands as possible.

Because many children sign up for the program at an early age, Miles said she was happy to find out that many of the kids getting stickers from her table were already enrolled in the program — a sign that it is working.

Birdwell said she’s happy to see so many repeat visitors.

Having been around for many years, always providing important information to growing families, Birdwell said it’s been fun to see them come back over the years.

“We have parents who come back with their kids each year,” she said. “They’ve grown up with us.”

Susan Peterson brought her granddaughter, Kadence Holder, who was there at the Hands On! Regional Museum’s table to do a tie-dye coffee filter project, wearing a Hello Kitty face painting.

“She loves the Hands On! museum,” Peterson said. “This is our first year, but it’s definitely something we’ll come back to.”

Follow Tony Casey on Twitter @TonyCaseyJCP. Like him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/tonycaseyjournalist.

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