TAMPA A crowd of nearly 400 turned out to take advantage of free food, entertainment and camaraderie at the recent Family Fun Fest at the University Area Community Center.
"It's our attempt to get out to meet each other and enjoy what we've got to offer," said University Area Community Development Corporation Executive Director and CEO Dan Jurman, who was front and center to greet neighborhood residents as they came to the center on June 22 for the two-hour event that included music, arts and crafts, children's games, face-painting and lunch.
Engrossed in the various festivities before them, it's likely most participants had little or no awareness that it was Van Dyke Church officials in neighboring Lutz that picked up the tab for the affair's expenses.
"We've invested over $2,500, even with Metropolitan Ministries' reduced rate of $1.50 a head for the lunches," said David Wildes, director of Van Dyke's young adult ministries.
"We just wanted to reach out to the community to express God's love for them in a tangible way," said Wildes, who also noted that Fantastic Events, the company which provided most of the entertainment, did so at a lesser price than normal.
Rob Rose, Van Dyke's executive director of discipleship, said it's important for the church's congregants to go out into the community and "live their faith."
"Our youth group goes throughout the Tampa Bay area to do fun things," Rose said. "That's because Van Dyke is known as a serving church."
University Area Community resident Alfred Clark was among those in attendance who was impressed with all the kids' activities, but hadn't recognized the church's involvement until being told.
"That's nice that they've done that and it's good, too, that the people at the University Community Center reach out to the neighborhood to get people together," Clark said. "It used to be rundown but it's starting to improve."
Nearby resident Reggie Bertrand also was among those who came to check out the happenings.
"I'm here to enjoy the moment," he said. "It's especially nice to see the kids having fun."
Alejandria Valdez sat in a chair, contentedly bouncing her four-month-old son Damien Valdez on her knee as she listened to the lively sounds played by Van Dyke's deejay Cory Barron.
"I like the music best," she said.
Amber Nelson, who along with her son Gomez Santiz, 1, and his daddy, Manuel Santiz, enjoyed a lunch of hamburgers and chips, all while taking in the goings on in the tree-canopied park area adjacent to the community center.
"I like everything about it - the food, the music and the games," Nelson said.
Bill Atkinson, the director of Van Dyke's administration and care/prayer ministries un-imposingly positioned himself at a table with a sign that simply read, "Prayer Requests."
He noted the church purposely chose to have a low-profile presence so its name was not listed on any of the event's advertising materials.
"But I'm here to pray with people if they ask because we believe in the power of prayer," Atkinson said.
Cheryl Jackson, director of Van Dyke's at-risk kids' ministry, was also rather unassuming as she manned the popular sno-cone stand.
"Our primary intent is to show them the love of God and if and when the moment is right connect them with some of the services we have to offer," she said.
Joyce McKenzie can be reached at JoyceCMcKenzie@gmail.com.