A child plays at Charlotte Kids Fest. Photo by Chimena Ihebuzor.

On Oct. 28, hundreds of kids from all walks of life stepped onto a college campus for the first time to participate in the inaugural Charlotte Kid Fest. The merry-go-round event occupied the Charlotte Research Institute (CRI) portion of campus from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.. The fest included an in-house DJ, food trucks, apparel vendors, stilt men and even a miniature trolley.

The mission of the Charlotte Kids Fest is to inspire and motivate young minds with professional artistic, creative, educational and playful experiences that transform a child’s understanding of the world around them and what is possible.

“One little boy, about three or four, asked if this building [Bioinformatics] was my house. I said that is not my house, that’d be a very big house. I told him it is a school building for big kids. His counter was ‘when I get to be a big kid, do you think I could go to school there?’ That was a pretty big moment,” said Darlene Heater, executive director for University City Partners.

University City Partners, hosts of the fest, summoned Third Rock Events to plan the highly anticipated day.

According to Heater, Charlotte Kids Fest had been on her dream list for some time now.

“We were looking for activities that could invite the public back into University City now that the construction is getting cleaned up. I met Shawn Cosner, Third Rock Events president, and he had some familiarity with the kids festival that he worked on up in Norfolk, VA and he said we should bring that concept to University City.”

Charlotte Research Institute (CRI) was divided into four zones: learn, play, create and discover. The play zone featured yoga, hula hoop class, and a dance party. The ACEing Autism station was a popular ticket at the fest. Director of Marketing and Community Development for ACEing Autism Nils Weldy manned the station.

“We’re an organization that uses tennis to connect with kids with Autism,” Weldy said. “We’re helping with their hand-eye coordination, physical fitness and really improving their social skills. We’ve been steady all day. I think we’re introducing tennis to a lot of kids too which is cool.”

The Charlotte men’s and women’s tennis team also assisted at the ACEing Autism station by instructing kids how to play and even got some cardio in themselves.

The learn zone consisted of mainly UNC Charlotte departments and offices. The school of nursing had tents all along Snyder Road. University Sustainability Officer Michael Lizotte was excited to be amongst the Saturday fun.

“The partners wanted something in the learning area that was going to be about sustainability, so we decided to cover that. We’ve got a nice clean pile recycling and trash here that kids can sort out for themselves and hopefully teach their parents a thing or two about how to recycle in Charlotte,” Lizoette said.

The create zone provided kids with tutorials for balloon creations, magic and juggling. Thanks to Digi-Bridge, kids were able to build their own space stations and castles at the lego-building center. Digi-Bridge Operations Manager Zach McCray viewed the fest as a win-win for everybody involved.

“We’re more than happy to come be part of this and touch the lives of more families in Charlotte. We’ve been able to inform more people about what we do for the community and it’s been a great opportunity,” McCray said.

The discover zone was for the musically inclined as kids were able to test their skills with the Charlotte Symphony, Musical Minds and UNC Charlotte Reel.

Heater deemed the fest a huge success.

“People all day long, in and out, kids just running having such a good time. It’s going to be a lot of exhausted kids tonight,” Heater said. “You can see kids just hanging over their parents shoulders as their leaving and they are just wiped out. It has just exceeded my expectations, an unbelievable event.”

Charlotte Kids Fest is here. UNC Charlotte might just be onto something.

Children play at Charlotte Kids Fest. Photo by Chimena Ihebuzor.