Ten years ago the Chester Community Association (CCA), during its first year as an organization, wanted to do more for the community of Chester. With a mission of improving an already pleasant place to live, its members sought a source to fund various beautification projects and community events.
“We needed a fundraiser – and a good way to raise money is to throw a party,” said Elliott Fausz, the president of the CCA. The idea for the party evolved into a community festival – which would become ChesterFest.
Numerous members of the association collaborated that year in preparation for what they thought would amount to a big picnic of sorts, according to Fausz, and that fall, September 2001, roughly 20 vendors and a few musical bands helped transform the Village Green.
Since that time, funds raised by vendors and sponsors have helped to build park benches and have led the effort in getting additional street lights constructed in Chester; funds from ChesterFest have also been appropriated for constructing a stage on the Village Green and community venues like this year’s Second Thursday event series and other such occasions like Halloween on the Green. The CCA also contributes money collected from ChesterFest to the Chesterfield Center for the Arts Foundation.
For Fausz – now the Co-Chairman of the festival –the festival itself also enhances the quality of life for Chester residents. “An event like this,” he said, “where it’s branded as a Chester event, really helps give people a sense of place and identify with the community; and it always brings the community together … and what’s a community without anything to do? It’s just a place to live then.”
A decade down the road and the festival has experienced quite the evolution; the most recognizable distinction is the increase in vendor participation to 140, plus a significant increase in attendance: the past few years, ChesterFest had an estimated 7,000-8,500 people come and go throughout the day.
Over the years, some elements have sustained, such as an assortment of food and craft vendors, live music and other entertainment, like the dog show and pie eating contest; however, though ChesterFest is known as a family-oriented gathering, Fausz said a focus has been placed in the more recent years on the children of the community.
The Kid’s Zone, which has grown significantly since the earlier years, is now equipped with inflatables provided by the Spacewalk of Chester, and this year, the folks from the Goddard School’s section will focus on teaching children the nutritional value of food through demonstrations and hands-on activities.
“It’s undergone a metamorphosis of sorts,” said Mark Fausz, Elliott’s father and the other Co-Chairman of the event. “The original concept was more of a picnic – a giant community picnic – but it sort of evolved into what it is today, which is more of a huge community celebration.”
He feels large community events, such as ChesterFest, instills in local residents a reason to be proud of our community because it’s something with which we can identify on a year-to-year basis.
Also, the multitude of volunteers, many of whom are from local clubs and organizations (the JROTC, the Keyettes, and other adult volunteer organizations), enable the event to run efficiently, according to Mike Leatherwood, a board member of the CAA who has been helping out with the festival for a number of years. Whether they are helping vendors and crafters unpack or pack up, or helping to clean up trash, deliver ice or help vendors find their locations early the morning of the festival, Leatherwood feels the volunteers make it all happen.
“There’s a lot of people that have put in months and months of volunteer time to pull this thing off each time; there just wouldn’t be a festival if it weren’t for the volunteers,” he said. “It just takes everybody coming together.”
ChesterFest will be this Saturday, Sept. 24, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, contact Elliott Fausz at email@example.com.