WEST ORANGE, NJ — Though West Orange Recreation Department held its annual Spring Fling on April 13 at West Orange High School’s Tarnoff Gym, the 2017 event offered a different kind of experience for local children than in previous years.
Forgoing its traditional egg hunt, the Spring Fling this year hosted a Play Zone where boys and girls could make arts and crafts projects as well as dance to music pumped in by a deejay. And instead of giving away chocolate bunnies to finders of golden eggs, Recreation Director Bill Kehoe and Assistant Recreation Director Edwin Johnson raffled off numerous gift baskets to lucky children and a 40-inch television for their parents throughout the evening.
According to Candy Myrick, the recreation department’s director of special programs, these changes were made in order to make the event more interactive for attendees. Myrick said that previous editions of the Spring Fling saw families arrive for the egg hunt and leave directly afterward without taking the time to meet any of their fellow community members. By hosting activities instead, she said the event could better live up to its purpose of instilling a spirit of togetherness in residents.
“We learn to greet each other, know each other, pull together for things,” Myrick told the West Orange Chronicle in an April 13 phone interview, adding that a community is “more than just your house, your block. We’re a larger group of people that comes together and cares for each other.”
Not everything about the Spring Fling was new, though. As in previous years, families were treated to a hilarious magic show from the Great Scott and talking parrot Thurston. And of course, the Easter Bunny paid an early visit to West Orange so it could take pictures with township boys and girls. That tradition was certainly not going anywhere, Myrick said, because it is always special seeing the children’s reactions upon meeting the Easter Bunny.
“It’s just fun to see them,” Myrick said, calling it her favorite part of the event. “Some want to run right up to him and hug and kiss him. Some of the little ones want to run away, but they want to be there — they really want to sit on him but are scared at the same time.”
Between the changes and traditions, Spring Fling 2017 proved to be a hit for children and parents alike. Charlene Davis said she thought focusing on arts and crafts this year was a good idea because it provided for a more meaningful experience for families to share. Plus, she said it was safer for the children not to chase after eggs.
Simply hosting an event that brings people together is a positive for the community, Davis added. After all, she said, occasions such as the Spring Fling could be the only chance residents get to experience West Orange in a way they normally would not in their daily lives.
“It’s just a way to get out of the house and possibly meet new people,” Davis told the Chronicle during the event. “Your children might get to meet other friends here.”
Dayan Vasquez agreed that gathering as a community was highly beneficial, especially for a township of West Orange’s makeup. With a town so diverse, Vasquez said it is nice to see people of so many different cultures interacting with one another. Communities need events like this to make such engagement possible, she said.
Above all, Vasquez pointed out that the Spring Fling and other township events she and her family attend are fun for children.
“It’s great for the kids,” Vasquez told the Chronicle during the event. “We always have a good time.”
West Orange residents were not the only ones who enjoyed the festivities. Nicole Sparks and her family were visiting her mother-in-law when they decided to stop by the Spring Fling. And they were glad they did, with Sparks telling the Chronicle that her children had a blast taking in the magic show and making crafts afterward. They even won a few gift baskets.
Though Sparks does not live in the area — her family just moved back to the United States from Germany, where her husband had been stationed for his military service — she said she absolutely would be willing to attend future events like the Spring Fling when in the neighborhood again. She said the occasion seemed like a great chance to come together and enjoy being among neighbors.
The West Orange visitor said she would definitely encourage residents to try township-sponsored activities if they have not already.
“It’s just good family fun,” Sparks said at the Spring Fling.
Ronda and David Brinkerhoff do not need to be told about the benefits of local events. The West Orange couple said they have brought their children to everything from the July 4 fireworks to the Christmas festivities in town. And they always have a nice time doing so, with Ronda Brinkerhoff pointing out that they usually meet up with people they know who are also attending. The children get the chance to see their friends outside of school as well, she said.
Now that the fair weather of spring is here, the Brinkerhoffs said residents can especially take advantage of all the places West Orange has to enjoy the outdoors. Their own favorite spots include the Turtle Back Zoo and the numerous parks in the area.
With the warm weather also come plenty of summer programs from the recreation department, from baseball to basketball to track. The department has a number of special events scheduled for the coming months as well, such as a fishing derby on June 3, a sports and games night on June 23, and a food truck festival on July 2.
And Myrick hopes West Orange residents will come out for the activities, pointing out that they are the perfect opportunities to connect with the community in a way they might not have previously.
Residents “should start experiencing West Orange as a whole,” Myrick said. “We have a lot to offer.”
Photos by Sean Quinn and Juan Pintado