FELLSMERE – Not an hour into the first ever Children’s Festival at Operation Hope in Fellsmere and already more than a hundred kids had arrived, ready to play games, ride a toy train and dance to the music.
“I was a little nervous,” event organizer Jesse Zermeno said, despite regularly organizing two massive annual events at Operation Hope.
This was the first time the organization had planned an event to celebrate children – other events held have focused on getting children prepared for school and helping families during the holidays.
Savannah Burdge came out to the festival, hoping to ride the “toy” train around Operation Hope’s property and to ride a pony from Laporte Farms.
“We’re having fun,” the 2-year-old’s dad, Justin, said.
Five-year-old Joseph “JoJo” Romano was having an equally great time spending the day with his grandpa, Ken Miller, who serves as the pastor at Revelation Truth Church International across the street from Operation Hope.
Pastor Miller said that his church wanted to help the group across the street when he heard about the upcoming festival.
“Kids need something good to anchor to,” he said, adding that Operation Hope is “a good organization.”
Romano said his favorite part of the day had been kicking the soccer ball in a game where the ball had to land in a milk crate.
He also liked having his face painted with a night scene with a bat and a spider across his forehead.
Miller said he thought it great that Operation Hope thought to offer such a family-friendly event given the economy.
“It’s a fun thing to do with a little bit of money,” he said, adding that families would be able to spend the day, go home and not regret the money spent.
Nancy Luna brought her children, Marisa, 9, and Lino, 4, out to the festival at Lino’s behest.
“He was just so excited,” she said of Lino, who attends school at Operation Hope and had heard about the festival.
“They’re having a great time,” she said of the kids, who were busy racing small sailboats in a rain gutter regatta.
Cub Master Richard Brown of Pack 589 in Sebastian organized the regatta, highlighting a lesser-known Cub Scout activity.
Brown said the pack decided to participate in the festival, not only to support Operation Hope but to also promote Scouting.
“I’m so very thankful to so many” who sponsored and helped with the event, Zermeno said.
Sponsors included Alpizar Law, Sun Ag, Fellsmere Farms, Fellsmere Frog Leg Festival Committee, Julie Decker, and the Hispanic Medical Association, along with the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office, Indian River County Fire Rescue and NASA.