For those who may doubt the diversity of the Somerset Hills area, a stop by the 17th annual International Festival, held last week at the Somerset Hills YMCA in Basking Ridge, would have proven otherwise.
About 300 people showed up at the YMCA's main facility last Sunday afternoon to view and sample the music, art, crafts and foods of primarily local residents representing 25 countries, according to YMCA spokeswoman Megeen Laska.
Fifty volunteers also made the day possible, with Jackie Fuchs serving as chair of this year's International Festival.
Each year, the festive event brings together community organizations and individuals who represent the diverse people and cultures of the world — as well as the Somerset Hills communities.
Themed ‘One World, One Family’, the event each year features music, dance performances, food and art that representing multiple countries, thanks to the support of volunteers. The volunteers from the community also showcase samples of international cuisine, clothing, pottery, books and more from their own countries.
One of the highlights of this year's festival was five different cultural dance performances, Laska said.
In describing the event, Jennifer Williford, Member Engagement Officer, said, “This event is so much fun. It’s like having a little bit of EPCOT in your backyard!”
The Somerset Hills YMCA’s commitment to celebrating culture, diversity and global engagement is the goal of various initiatives throughout the year. This past summer, local teens traveled to the Dominican Republic on an international outreach trip. While in the Dominican Republic, the group helped to paint murals and classrooms at several YMCAs and had an opportunity to meet local teens to learn about their lives and culture.
In a separate project, Fred Wasiak, Chief Operating Officer of the Somerset Hills YMCA, joined executives from other YMCAs on a trip to Haiti with the purpose of identifying partnership opportunities between the YMCAs there and in New Jersey. Their journey was reported to be successful in defining collaborative initiatives based in culture, arts and humanity with the goal of providing a sense of hope for a better future.
“Diverse culture is the fabric of our community,” Wasiak said. “We, at the Y, feel so fortunate to be able to celebrate culture through global initiatives like international outreach and through grassroots initiatives like the International Festival.”
Additionally, this fall, the YMCA will launch a new Model U.N. Club program to provide local high school students with an opportunity to increase their global awareness. The students will assume the roles of delegates and debate current issues that affect the global community.
Other members of the volunteer committee for International Festival
Other members of the International Festival included: Dr. Amita Dasmahapatra, Susan Felter, Nancy Bachrach, Lisi Gong, Elba Jara, Rosa Britez, Ximena Garcia-Noriega and Mackenzie Marcus.