JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. - Kids' imaginations ran wild while their parents got a look at resources available.

The 18th Annual Kids' Fest drew more than 3,000 children and parents to the American Lake Community Center April 1, proving to be one of the most popular events on base.

This year's theme, "Pirates Afloat," celebrated the Month of the Military Child like never before. Kids donned pirate apparel, sang pirate-themed songs onstage and were treated to a taste of what it might have been like back when pirates roamed the seas.

More than 50 vendors participated, nearly all of them displaying pirate themes.

"A lot of kids are on spring break, so it's a way to get out and give them something fun to do," said Elizabeth Thunstedt, Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation special events.

Inside the main tent were two bounce houses, a giant inflatable slide and a cordoned-off area for boffer sword fighting.

A climbing wall, netted soccer ring and the JBLM Fire and Emergency Services safety trailer entertained kids outside.

Several JBLM units gave kids the opportunity to explore displayed vehicles and equipment, while Safe Kids Pierce County offered complimentary car seat checks and installations.

Inside the community center, kids went from booth to booth in search of treasures. Hands-on activities included digging for worms, coloring Jolly Roger flags, constructing miniature sailboats from paper and straws, and making kites using wooden sticks and plastic sheeting.

Schools of Knowledge, Inspiration, Exploration and Skills, a program offered through Child, Youth and School Services, was one of dozens of resources onsite offering activities for children and information for adults. While children hunted for gold coins and necklaces in a makeshift forest, parents spoke with SKIES representatives about services available to military families.

"We want to let people know and see for themselves that there's a lot of support out there for our families," Thunstedt said.

Retiree Kevin McMains and his wife, Jewel, brought their five children after learning about Kids Fest from the JBLM FMWR Facebook page.

"They've had a lot of fun," McMains said. "So far, I think they've enjoyed the show that the parrot lady put on the most."

"It really brings the family together," Jewel added.

Tammy Vandeway brought her two children, A.J., 4, and Mikey, 2. Her sons agreed that their favorite part of the day was making pirate hats.

"When (JBLM) puts on something like this, they always do such a great job of having so many different things with something for every age," Vandeway said. "It gives an outlet for the kids to do something fun and educational, and it really gives you a feeling of community."

Megan Vally's four children enjoyed unleashing their energy with boffer sword fighting, while the JBLM FES safety trailer was the highlight of her day.

"Every time we go somewhere and they have this trailer, we go through it so they know what to do in case anything happens and I'm not there," Vally said. "I think it's great. I always make sure they do this."

All of the entertainment and activities were free, courtesy of the participating organizations.

"Kids' Fest could not happen without all of the agencies involved," said Gloria Tomczewski, DFMWR special events officer.

Tomczewski already looks forward to next year's event but won't give a hint on details.

"We have already started putting together themed ideas, but that is a surprise," she said.

Laura M. Levering is a reporter with the Northwest Guardian, Joint Base Lewis-McChord's weekly newspaper.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16