By Valerie Baldowski
At Nash Farm Park in Hampton recently, dozens of youngsters decorated gingerbread houses, sang Christmas carols, played holiday games, and met a dancing "penguin," who gave out candy.
Altogether, 55 children, ranging in age from 5 years old to 12 years old, gathered in the barn at Nash Farm Park to participate in the Winter Wonderland Festival.
The event, organized by the Henry County Parks and Recreation Department, was held earlier this week. It was part of the department's Christmas Break Day Camp, which ran Dec. 20-23.
The activities drew children from the camps at Nash Farm Park, Heritage Park in McDonough, the Locust Grove Recreation Center, J. P. Moseley Recreation Center, and the Fairview Activity Center.
In one corner of the building, children were playing holiday games. In another area, several were working with camp counselors to build a gingerbread house.
The campers danced to Christmas music, decorated Christmas cookies, sang karaoke songs and carols on-stage, and accepted candy from the penguin mascot, played by Jim Joyce, Henry County recreation facility coordinator.
Joyce, who has two granddaughters, said he participated in the festivities because of his love of children.
"I have been actively involved for three years now," said Joyce. "Even before I came to Henry County to work, I would take time off to help. I have been the Easter Bunny, dropping eggs from a helicopter during the Flashlight Easter Egg hunt, and the penguin today."
The county facilities coordinator said he enjoyed donning his costume for the children. "My favorite is the penguin. [It's] easier for me to move around and dance and play with the kids," said Joyce. "The most enjoyable thing for me to see is the smiles and the big-eyed stares. You can almost read their minds, saying 'Is that a real penguin?'"
Two youngsters who attended the festival included 10-year-old Kaitlyn Armenta, and 7-year-old Madison Norell, both of McDonough.
The girls said their favorite part of the event was the balloon drop, where a counselor pulled a cord, and dozens of red and green balloons, suspended in a net hanging from the ceiling, rained down on the children.
In addition to the floating balloons, the atmosphere was enhanced with plenty of artificial snow.
"There was snow stuck in my hair for two days," said Kaitlyn. She said she also enjoyed the penguin mascot, and the children's games.
Madison said that her favorite part of the festivities was the opportunity to make, and eat, "S'mores."
In addition to the snacks, she also took part in the karaoke. Some of the songs included "Santa Baby" and "Deck the Halls."
The day camp gives working parents an opportunity to keep their children occupied when school is out, said Tamara Jarvis, a supervisor for the Heritage Park day camp.
The children can work on their social interaction, teamwork, and problem-solving skills, as well as make holiday-themed decorations, Jarvis said.
"We try to keep it Christmas-y," she said. "We've been...doing lots of arts and crafts with Christmas things. We did silver bells, we did stockings, we did Christmas trees with M &M's [chocolate candies]."
Jarvis said what she likes best is seeing the campers enjoy themselves.
"I like the kids going home with a smiling face, and wanting to come back next time," she added. "They're happy, and them being happy, makes me really happy. It's all about the kids, and having fun."