Joliet KidzFest inspires love of learning

Marissa Gonzalez (right), a senior at Lewis University, paints the face of Jimmy Sanchez, 9, of Joliet. (Megann Horstead)

Annual event attracts thousands to downtown Joliet for food, fun, educational activities

By Megann Horstead | For the Bugle

For one day, downtown Joliet turned into a festival designed to capture the attention of children age 2-11.

Just ask 10-year-old Alexis Martinez, of Plainfield. She was one of thousands attendees who took part in the activities at this year’s Joliet KidzFest.

“I like that I get to learn new things,” she said.

Besides family-friendly entertainment, food and crafts, Joliet KidzFest offered 10 new exhibitors in 2016.

Richard Fredrickson, interim event and marketing manager for City Center Partnership, said there’s great meaning in holding the event in downtown Joliet.

“It showcases Lewis University and showcases downtown Joliet,” he said. “It gives them the opportunity to reach out to the public.”

This year’s festival featured 60 different vendors, which is an all-time high for KidzFest.

From pony rides and face painting to martial arts and chemistry experiments, KidzFest was full of attractions.  Among those holding booths as part of the festivities were the Joliet Park District, Joliet Police Department, Joliet Fire Department and Forest Preserve District of Will County.

Martinez said she was enjoying all KidzFest had to offer.

“I saw some fossils that were, like, gigantic,” she said. “That was very interesting. I also learned that Illinois was under water at one point.”

Martinez’s mom, Saida, noted that the event is designed to engage children, and said she’s pleased by all the activities made available.

“It’s very family-friendly,” she said. “There’s projects to do. There’s painting. There’s games.”

Saida added that KidzFest provides a meaningful experience for her family.

“They’re learning new things,” she said. “They’re actually making them work out; they’re staying active.”

Greg Kientop is an adjunct professor of environmental studies at Lewis University. He said giving children a chance to see the various fossils, rocks and crystals that make up the world is nice.

“Some things that they generally see in a museum, they can’t touch,” Kientop said. “Here, they get to touch a little bit more.”

A mastodon’s tusk, jaw and teeth fragments were exhibited. Kientop said people were responding well to the display, adding that an interactive quiz on environmental topics was offered to help generate interest.

“They always get them right,” Kientop said. “Sometimes a parent has to help them out, but that’s a good thing, too.”

Steve Rex said he and his daughter were enjoying their time spent at KidzFest.

“It seems to get bigger and better every time,” the Channahon father said. “The kids love coming down here.”

Rex and his daughter enjoyed the festival and various displays. He said they walked the entire strip, stopping for a lesson in martial arts and watching a cyborg in action.

“We’re just knocking them off one at a time,” Rex said.

Issael Cordoba, 16, is a member of the 2016 world championship-winning Joliet Township High School Cyborgs Robotics team. He said he’s pleased to showcase what he and his team designed.

“It has to pass through obstacles; kind of like army tanks,” Cordoba said.

This year was Cordoba’s first time working as a member of the Joliet Cyborgs’ design team. It took six weeks to put together the cyborg, but Cordoba said the team was satisfied with the final product.

“There’s a lot of kids that seem happy,” he said. “That’s what we want. We just want them to smile.”

The annual event typically attracts between 4,000 and 6,000 people, according to Fredrickson.

“It just keeps getting bigger and bigger,” he said.

KidzFest was sponsored in part by Lewis University.

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