Celebrating international cultures in tandem with a back-to-school theme, local students, families, community partners and members of the Hobart and William Smith community recently joined together for the ninth annual Festival of Nations.
A successful gathering that filled the halls of the Geneva High and Middle Schools, the event provided the opportunity for area students and families to engage with school clubs, community organizations and resources all while enjoying a variety of foods, traditions and music from around the world. The Festival was held on Saturday, Oct. 24.
“With the move of the date from spring to fall we are able to adopt a back-to-school theme,” says Festival of Nations Chair Nikki Kersbergen, a Geneva High School English teacher. “Students and parents can see what clubs and sports are offered and get involved sooner in the year. Community members can see what great things Geneva City School District is offering this school year and where they can get involved. Overall, the feel of the event this year was more of opening a book and falling into the beginning of a great story rather than a celebration of the ending. There is so much possibility in the fall.”
A collaboration between Geneva City Schools and HWS, the Festival featured a range of singing, dancing and instrumental performances, cultural traditions as well as activities to celebrate the backgrounds of many who live in Geneva. Participants enjoyed music, art, foods, games and dance from the Caribbean, French, Italian, Jewish, Muslim, Russian, and South Asian cultures, among others.
With more than 80 local groups and clubs involved, Kersbergen had anticipated an even greater outcome this year. Kersbergen and several student organizers were interviewed by Finger Lakes Radio prior to the event.
“I think it’s great that HWS is so involved in Festival of Nations and in the Geneva community as a whole,” says Jordan Loretz ’17, leader of the Colleges’ Perfect Third a capella, which performed at the Festival. “I was thrilled to see so many international students from the Colleges sharing their cultures. I’m proud to be a member of Perfect Third and to have the chance to sing at events like this in the community. I know I speak for the group when I say we absolutely love seeing people’s faces light up each year. It was wonderful to see so many Geneva City School District students perform as well. We strive to be a positive example for Geneva high schoolers and show just one of the many opportunities that higher education holds.”
One new feature of the Festival was a lottery for job-shadowing opportunities from local restaurant owners, including Belhurst Castle, Cam’s Pizzeria, Cebo, New American Restaurant, Club 86 Bagels and Cakes, El Morro Restaurant, The Gould Hotel, Ichiro Japanese Restaurant, Main Moon, Mark’s Pizzeria, Opus, Red Jacket Orchards, Sodexo at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Torrey Park Grill, and Uncle Joe’s Pizzeria.
“Instead of donating food for the festival, we thought it would be wonderful if local restaurant owners would allow an interested student or two to get an inside look at their operation. These area businesses have been very generous over the past nine years donating food to the festival. We enjoy working with them and thank them for all that they do for our community,” says Kersbergen.
Interested students signed up for the lottery during the school day in Kersbergen’s classroom 223 at Geneva High School, and also during the Festival at the welcome table near the high school gym.
Returning after a successful first performance at last year’s festival was Two Heron’s Drum Circle, a volunteer-based organization that uses percussion to inspire positive rhythms and actions to bring communities closer together. The drum circle used instruments like djembes and congas from South Africa and doumbeks from the Middle East. Also returning for their second year were two Native Okinawan dancers. They were invited by Kyoko Ishida-Klaus, Tanaka Lecturer of Japanese Language at HWS.
Many other longtime participants included: St. Peter’s Academy Choir and Ballet; HWS Gospel Ensemble; Mt. Olive Baptist Church Children’s Choir; Sons of Italy; Geneva Community Center and Boys and Girls Club; and Geneva 2020, among many others.
Representing more than 30 nations, the HWS international community shared the traditional foods, games, music and dance from their countries of origin, while a number of clubs and students of all heritages represented a country by hosting activities such as origami, jewelry making, and food sampling. Nearly all of the HWS student clubs and organizations participated as well, deepening the relationship between the Colleges and the local communities and encouraging interaction between Geneva City School and HWS students, especially those of international descent.
A special cook off event was also hosted preceding the Festival. Volunteers from the HWS Caribbean Student Association joined with local 4-H members for the culinary activities.
“The collaboration of Geneva High and Middle Schools with HWS and the Geneva community is such a crucial aspect of the festival which really brings the two communities together,” said organizer Melissa Tyler ’18.
The annual gift basket raffle was held to raise money for the Boys and Girls Club afterschool food program, and the artwork of Geneva City School District students, featured on a set of art notecards, were available for purchase as single cards and sets to raise funds for the afterschool food program as well.
“Festival of Nations allows students to lend a helping hand to various service projects while engaging with local community members,” said volunteer Jessica Lathrop ’18. “It is a fun and important event for the Geneva community, and I am glad I was able to assist.”
For more information about the Festival, or to learn about volunteer opportunities, contact Nikki Kersbergen at 315-781-0402315-781-0402 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the photos above: The Geneva High School Choir performs at the Festival of Nations; Sosuke Nakamura ’17 hands a paper to a community member at the Festival of Nations after writing his name in Japanese; members of the Sons of Italy Geneva Lodge #2397 hand out Italian food samples to Geneva students; the HWS Latin American Organization displays Cuban flags at their Festival of Nations table; and crowds of local students and community members fill the halls of Geneva High and Middle Schools during the Festival.