It’s My Party

Feb. 26-March3, 04
It’s My Party
By Deacon Tom Picciano/ SUN contributing writer
SUN photo(s) Chuck Haupt
Eighth annual event offers children of immigrants an invitation

Johnson City — “Lollipop, Lollipop” boomed out of a speaker on Valentine’s Day at Blessed Sacrament Church Hall. A painted mural of a diner counter took up most of the stage. Another mural of a teen dance duo and one of Rosemary Clooney were nearby. Elvis was there, too. A 50s Sock Hop was the theme for the annual Presidents’ Day Party.

The party started eight years ago when parishioners met Christina Savatxagh. The lifelong parishioner, then a preteen, joined a celebration. It was the very first party she’d attended…ever. Her family had come from Laos. She was born in the U.S, but she just didn’t get invitations to birthday parties like her classmates. That’s how a group that’s now known as the Presidents’ Day Committee began. Their only purpose is to give a party each year on the holiday weekend for children who come from refugee families.

Committee member Chuck Haupt said it’s a segment of the population that is often forgotten. “Most of the kids were born here in the United States. But because the language they grow up with is from the native country of the parents, they need to be in E.S.L. [English as a Second Language] classes,” Haupt said. “This is the one event they can look forward to this year. A lot of the kids have been coming here for a lot of years now and can’t wait for this day.” It’s also an important day for those who volunteer to help out.

Katie Haas, a member of the Confirmation class, has volunteered with the party several times. She helped paint some of the murals. “It’s fulfilling, and it’s fun to do,” Haas said. “The best part is the kids. They’re really cute, the little ones.” Jeremy Donovan, also a member of the Confirmation class, has volunteered since the start. He was helping with a basketball toss. “It’s pretty fun to watch kids have fun to celebrate Presidents’ Day,” Donovan said. “They don’t get invited to parties that regular American kids would on a regular basis, so we throw this just to give them a taste of an American party.”

There were lots of other games, ring toss, bowling and more. A girl scout troop assisted with another one, which looked for the largest bubble gum bubble. “They walk up to the booth. Three people can play at one time, and they chew it. Then we say, ‘On your mark, get set, go!’ and they blow the bubble. And the biggest bubble wins a prize,” said troop leader Lou Ann Valise. “It’s an official 1950s game.” Arts and crafts activities filled some of the time, as did eating. There were a variety of treats, from candy to ice-cream floats.

Old vinyl records hung from the ceiling. A black and white videotape of “American Bandstand” played on a television. There would have been a jukebox too, said Chuck Haupt. “That old jukebox has been here for years. But number one, we can’t get it to work. Number two, they just built a wall where it was stored and now they can’t get it out without taking the wall down.” The tunes were provided by a live disc-jockey, Father Donald Bourgeois, pastor of Blessed Sacrament. Father Bourgeois, flanked by a large box full of CDs, also prepared to teach a dance step or two. He was attending the party for the first time.

“It’s an opportunity to work with a lot the parishioners who are into volunteering. It is very helpful to know who they are. There are a lot of good people here,” he said.

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