The Ark Foundation hosts first annual Freedom Fest

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By Heather Regula, Correspondent

The first annual Freedom Fest took place from 2-10 pm on Friday, March 24. Rain plagued the Belton area for most of the morning. However, clouds parted and the sun came out as hundreds of people descended to Yettie Polk Park for this inaugural event. The event was hosted by The Ark Foundation, in cooperation with various other local groups and agencies. Live music filled the air, as families mingled and took part in the festivities.

“The Ark Foundation is a nonprofit organization and was established in 2004. Our focus is to meet the needs of children and adults in crisis. Human trafficking is our motivation – if we can decrease the vulnerability of our at-risk populations, then we can decrease the risk of human trafficking in our area. We work closely with the Central Texas Family Violence Prevention Taskforce, Central Texas Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking Round Table, the CARE network and other agencies,” explained Ark Foundation Executive Director Kathy. “The Freedom Fest is the culminating event for the UMHB Freedom Movement’s End It Week. We want this to be an annual family-friendly event – a place where families can come to have fun, see how to stay safe, network, and learn about the resources our community can offer. Nine commercial vendors, eight food trucks and about 20 information tables signed up to participate. Most of our vendors fall under fair trade – meaning their products are slave free, workers are paid a fair wage for their work and the workers are in safe working conditions. Every level of their business is monitored for slave free conditions.

Most vendors agreed to donate 10 percent of their Freedom Fest profits to our programs. Fees varied for vendors – fair trade/made in USA vendors paid $30, for-profit vendors paid $50 and non-profit organizations or information tables paid $25,” said Kathy.

“Skills USA is a Career and Technical Education program that provides real-world experience for students in a variety of expertise. We are co-hosts of this event and our team, of about fifteen students, has been here since 8 am. Our student volunteers measured and flagged spaces on the lawn for the vendors and food trucks. They also escorted vendors to their stations, helped them unpack their vehicles and set up. The event photographer is a photography student in our program. A graphic design student created the design that was used in the Freedom Fest brochure and on the tee-shirt,” said Karen Frances, CTE instructor at Belton High School.

The Un-Included Club was one of the nonprofit organizations present at the Freedom Fest. “The Un-Included Club is funded mainly by donations and was established in 2009 by Garfield Hawk as a grassroots movement to help at-risk children. We service 35-40 children daily and our three flagship programs are urban agriculture, literacy and youth leadership. We are here today to share our club with the community. We brought some microgreens that the kids have grown themselves. These particular microgreens are black oil sunflower seeds that have germinated just past the sprout stage and are considered a superfood. We eat them for a snack and have learned to cook with them,” said Program Director Doree Collins. Several children, who are members of the Un-Included Club, were actively talking to members of the community who stopped by their booth.

“Hogs For A Cause is a faith-based nonprofit organization that uses the feral hog population to feed families. We have given away over 250,000 pounds of meat in the last seven years. We are here to support ARK Ministries, help them raise money and awareness. We are also trying to get the word out about what we do,” said Dave Haehn, of Belton.

Several local individuals had their small business on display. “I came out to Freedom Fest hoping to network – I’ve enjoyed visiting with people and meeting new people. This is a great event,” said Arbonne Independent Consultant Lorna Brockette. Kristy Easley, Noonday Independent Ambassador, had her booth set up to display the Noonday jewelry. “This jewelry is made in 12 different countries and our goal is to give the people who make the jewelry a sustainable income by selling what they have made,” said Easley.

Josh Jones and his family, from Temple, took part in the Freedom Fest activities. “Freedom Fest sounded like a good family activity and we thought it would be a great way to start off the weekend. The weather turned out to be beautiful and we have really enjoyed ourselves,” said Jones.