By Jack Wiers, U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii Public AffairsDecember 22, 2009
ALIAMANUAca,!E+MILITARYAca,!E+RESERVATION, Hawaii - Everywhere, children were at the ready, decked out in their holiday performance finest as they gathered at the gymnasium, here, Saturday, in preparation for the annual Aliamanu Military ReservationAca,!E+(AMR) Holiday Funfest Christmas program.
"It's too hot, but it's nice," offered mom Amber Rivera as she ushered eight-year-old daughter Isabelle, a Jingle Bells tap dancer, and 5-year-old son Sebastian, a theater performer. Both danced and performed to Christmas tunes on the tropical 80-degree day.
Bracing for the cold was Oklahoma-bound Anitia Miller, whose daughter Gabrielle performed as a member of the holiday program.
"I have to go to the cold," Miller said, "but this is nice."
The 13th Annual Holiday Funfest, coordinated through Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation's Child, Youth and School Services (CYSS), is one of the many ways the south community kicks off the holiday season. Prior to the afternoon entertainment, craft booths and informational display, the day started with a parade around AMR.
"The parade itself is kind of unique," said Nelson Acosta, acting director, School Age Services, Fort Shafter, and event coordinator. "It provides the opportunity for participants to interact and socialize with their neighbors."
Led by Santa Claus, the festivities moved to the AMR gymnasium following a parade.
Four-year-old Braydon Cox busied himself by stamping customized holiday themes onto wrapping paper that will be taken back to South Dakota.
"I miss Grandma," Braydon said while painstakingly applying varying paint applications for his present.
While many young ones were supervised in the creation of holiday cards, ornaments and the building of edible gingerbread cookie houses, the crowd of more than 700 turned their attention to the stage in time for the afternoon entertainment, the highly successful CYSS program, SKIES (Schools of Knowledge, Inspiration, Exploration and Skill)Aca,!E+Unlimited.
Little Dakota Schmidt, 2, rested comfortably in the arms of her father, Staff Sgt. John Schmidt, who recently returned from Iraq with the 25th Infantry Division, in November.
"When I left for Iraq, Dakota was barely walking ... now she's dancing," Schmidt beamed, after Dakota finished her creative movement performance with half a dozen other two-year-olds.
More than 200 children took to the stage before the morning was finished. SKIES Director Sandy Salisbury guided the program from a pilot status five years ago to the high-profile program that now serves children as young as two with classes that span an ever-increasing range of performing arts.
SKIESAca,!E+Unlimited recently won 11 national awards. At this year's 4th of July Spectacular, a SKIES Unlimited rock band entertained more than 30,000 spectators as the opening act before rock group Kansas performed.
"We've come a long way since we had 22 children perform at the Easter Festival (five years ago)," Salisbury said.
The award-winning SKIES program features 115 classes and a monthly participation of 600-850 children, along with a staff of 28 instructors and 14 contractors.
Salisbury has not been surprised at the organization's success.
"I knew this type of instruction would go well with our families," she said, "particularly now with the current explosion of the performing arts."
View more photos online on the garrison's Flickr site.