Kids, families pack Pioneer park to support Billings schools

2011-09-24T15:10:00Z 2014-08-25T14:19:33Z Kids, families pack Pioneer park to support Billings schoolsBy ZACH BENOIT Of The Gazette Staff The Billings Gazette

Usually the playground is the main draw for kids at Pioneer Park, but for one day a year it's practically forgotten as thousands of youngsters swarm the park in search of prizes, treats and a little excitement.

That tradition held true Saturday as Saturday Live, an annual event designed to support Billings-area public schools, took over the park for the day.

"It is all about community and supporting the school districts," said Julie Whitworth, the event's coordinator. "It's just an event that brings everybody out and together."

Organized by the Education Foundation for Billings Public Schools, it featured more than 80 booths from more than 30 area schools scattered throughout the park's 34 acres.

The booths featured such draws as games, karaoke, a climbing wall and face painting.

Each school or school-sponsored group's booth keeps the money it raised for the day to put toward projects or operations.

Elysian School, a public school that is not part of School District 2, had a booth where parents made balloon animals for kids to go along with an inflatable obstacle course.

"This is our biggest fundraiser of the year, usually," said Erin McCall, vice president of the Elysian parent teacher organization, as she twisted a long balloon into a monkey for a youngster. "We're using the money to buy more computers for our classrooms."

Across the park at the Senior High Business Professionals Association group booth, students helped kids kick giant soccer balls and shoot huge basketballs.

"It's really fun seeing the kids' faces when they do this," said club member Rosa Dominguez, a 15-year-old sophomore. "Plus, what we get here we put toward the club and it keeps the club going."

Whitworth said Saturday Live's mission remains the same as it has since it started in the early 1990s, which is to provide a boost to schools in the Billings area.

Whitworth estimated more than 11,000 would attend by the end of the day and said the goal was to beat last year's $108,111 raised. 

As of Saturday evening, she said the total dollar amount would be close to the goal. With a few groups still to count, "We know we're over $100,000 again."

"I hope that people feel our support," she said. "I hope that they recognize that public education is a valuable asset here because I really believe that public education is a foundation of a strong community."

Families in attendance expressed similar sentiments. Max Lenington has been bringing his children, 7-year-old Madelyn and 6-year-old Landon, every year for the past three years to support the schools.

"It's a fun place to be," he said. "It's great to see everybody out supporting the same cause."

Landon, possibly still a little out of breath from zooming across the park's stream on a zip line a few minutes earlier and perhaps a bit shy, had a more succinct description of how the day was going.

"Fun," he said. "Fast. Good."



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