Lions Park in Emo saw a swell of support last Tuesday when organizers and participants of the “I Am Awesome (And I Know It)" girls' retreat held the sixth-annual "Music in the Park” event.
“Everybody came together and it made for a really great event,” enthused organizer Renée Martin-Brown.
“It seemed to go off without a hitch so I'm happy about that.”
Everyone who came out seemed to enjoy the local performers and had a very positive response, she noted.
“It looked like everyone enjoyed the atmosphere and the music, and that's about all we can ask for,” Martin-Brown added.
Through a barbecue, games, and activities, the annual self-esteem based retreat was able to raise just over $1,000.
The weather was perfect for the event, which made it easy for people to stay for the duration, Martin-Brown noted.
"Lots of people who came at 4:30 [p.m.] were still there at 7 [p.m.], so that tells us they had a great time.
“They could have easily ducked out sooner,” she laughed.
Although Martin-Brown admitted they've seen larger crowds for “Music in the Park,” those who came out this time around were very supportive.
“It wasn't our biggest crowd ever but they were appreciative and they were hungry,” she remarked.
“We sold out of almost all of our hamburgers and hotdogs.”
The event drew a mixed crowd from the community, with both young children and older folks enjoying the activities.
“There were young families with kids who were keeping busy and I think they were grateful to have some activities to keep the kids entertained,” Martin-Brown said.
“The older crowd were there, too, and they were quite happy to sit back and enjoy the view and the music.”
But the best part for Martin-Brown was watching the girls work together to host the event.
“My favourite part is always the teamwork aspect," she smiled. ”For me, I really enjoy the camaraderie between the girls.
“It's an opportunity for them to connect.”
Listening to all the local talent is another one of her highlights.
“I think our community and our district is so blessed with some really great talent,” Martin-Brown enthused.
“There were different styles and different genres of music that were performed, which was great, and I think that keeps the audience entertained, as well.”
The venue itself is another reason why Martin-Brown and many others in the area enjoy “Music in the Park” so much each year.
“I just love to see people down at the park enjoying the public facilities and enjoying being there,” she said.
“We have this beautiful park in town so it's nice to see people there just supporting our program.”
The “I Am Awesome (And I Know It)” retreat girls who helped make the event possible all took the initiative when it came to running stations and overseeing activities, Martin-Brown noted.
This year's retreat is fast approaching, with 60 girls from across Northwestern Ontario heading up to Sunny Cove Camp from Sept. 20-23.
This year, the retreat will be “cellphone-free,” which was a decision made by the board members who want to ensure all the girls are actively engaged for the whole weekend.
“We just found that in the past, it was getting to be too distracting to have their cellphones with them,” Martin-Brown said.
“It was distracting in the workshops, and it was distracting when we wanted to see them make new relationships and not be on their phones.”
While some girls were disappointed to learn about the new rule, others slated to attend this year's retreat welcomed the idea.
“One of our retreat girls last night even said, 'I am so excited that there is no cellphones,' and I thought, well, that's interesting coming from that age group,” Martin-Brown admitted.
“As older people, we think they're so dependant on it that they would just die without them but it's not the case,” she added.
“I think they welcome the opportunity to unplug, as well.”
Martin-Brown and the board members hope the ban on cellphones will encourage the girls to foster genuine relationships, as well as help them reconnect with both nature and themselves.
“It gives them some time to have some peace,” she smiled.
Moving forward, the girls who are attending the retreat this fall will continue to fundraise towards their goal of contributing $300 each by the end of the month.
The money is raised so each girl can attend free of charge, regardless of their family's financial situation.