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Popular 'family' gathering unites southeast Texas community

BEAUMONT, Texas — A stake president's vision for a community festival celebrating the family attracted more than 5,000 people from all faiths last month in its fourth year.

President Marshall Hayes of the Beaumont Texas Stake and other local church leaders approached Beaumont Mayor David Moore five years ago with an idea to start a festival for families that would involve people from many churches and organizations in the community.

"In conjunction with National Family Week, we suggested having a festival that would include activities designed to celebrate the family," President Hayes said. "The mayor was excited about the idea, and he hoped it would help pull our community together in a common cause — to support and strengthen the family.

The Celebrate Families Festival has since emerged as one of the community's most popular events. More than 6,000 people crowded into the Beaumont Civic Center for last year's festival. Family Services of southeast Texas, a local agency that has joined with the Church and other community groups to help organize each year's festival, considers the event the largest family festival of its type in the country.

The free festival includes games and crafts for children, entertainment, and informational booths from churches as well as clubs and organizations in the community that serve families. The Church sponsors booths each year showcasing such themes as family home evening, family history and family preparedness. Each year the Church wins one of the top prizes awarded to the groups sponsoring the best booths.

Children are invited each year to participate in art and essay contests focusing on the theme of "What My Family Means to Me." Winning essays are published in the local newspaper, and artwork is displayed at the festival.

Families, children, youth and adults from local wards perform at the festival each year.

The festival is always held on the Saturday before the start of National Family Week. On Sunday, the community sponsors an inter-faith Thanksgiving service at which leaders from various churches offer inspirational messages on families and local school and church choirs perform. A mother and daughter choir from the Beaumont 1st Ward performed at this year's service.

In conjunction with the festival, local LDS Church leaders have presented framed copies of the Proclamation on the Family to area mayors and city councils, encouraging them to proclaim the week of the festival as Family Week in their respective towns.

More than 70 community groups and organizations are a part of the committee that helps plan each year's festival. Dale Jones, stake mission president, and Golden Moss, stake public affairs director, served on the steering committee for this year's event.

President Jones said the opportunity to be involved in the festival is helping members of the Church build bridges with those of other faiths.

"We have developed greater friendships, understanding and trust as we work together with others in the community," he said. "Leaders of the community have a new respect for who we are as Latter-day Saints."

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