International Festival Evolves to Support Community

In the afternoon, a large group of women gather to dance to the African influence music preformed by the Charlottesville Community Drum Choir.

The Harrisonburg International Festival is best known for its face painting, cultural dancers, and food, but last Saturday it was clear that the festival also attracts interests that are a little more button down.  The first area that greeted newly arrived attendees was not food stands or activity stations, though these were present throughout the grounds, but representatives from banks, area colleges, voter registration, and a variety of other community service interests.

One of the most popular booths in the area was the Rockingham County voter registration booth.  Doug Geib, an EMU grad and licensed registrar, was one of the two volunteers at the booth.  Geib, a middle-aged man who guided several voters through the process of registering, said that coming to the festival gives voter registration the ability to get noticed. “The festival has evolved. It used to be mostly food,.Now it’s an event that brings in the entire community.” Although Geib denied targeting a specific demographic, he did note that the festival is a place where they receive lots of interest from college students, the homeless community, and others who may not have registered to vote.

Another booth that was taking advantage of a community event to garner interest was the Massanutten Technical Center, which offers English Programs and General Education Development (GED) tests.

According to Debby Turner, a long time employee of the Center, there has been a special interest in GED tests this year.  Turner pointed out that both homeschoolers and recent immigrants often need to become GED recipients to enter college. While these demographics are often difficult to reach, the festival has become a great way for the Center to communicate with both groups. Yet the festival does not necessarily lead to an increase in business. “We get more of our business from word of mouth, newspaper ads, and the internet,” said Turner.

However, Turner also claimed that getting out and being seen was an important part of what the Center is hoping to accomplish. “We feel that we need to be a part of the community, an important part. We need to make our presence felt.”

Turner’s words show just how far the International Festival has come.  It is no longer a place exclusively for food vendors and dancers, but has become a meeting place that pulls in newcomers to the Harrisonburg community, from college students to recent immigrants.  As the festival looks ahead, it is clear that it will only play a larger and larger role as bankers, English teachers, and college representatives join the food vendors and belly dancers.

David Yoder, Opinion Editor


Categories: Feature

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