WASHINGTON — Ten years ago, a conversation on the balcony of Washington Junior High School led to an event where the city of Washington celebrates its diversity.
After a decade, the Washington Junior Beta’s Heritage Day has become a tradition which celebrates all the residents of the city.
“The whole purpose of this is to see how diverse we are as a community,” Junior Beta Sponsor and WJHS Counselor Larry Mattes said.
This year’s edition of Heritage Day will be held this Saturday at the Eastside Park Community Building, starting at 2 p.m. Admission is free.
Seventeen countries will be participating in this year’s Heritage Day. Since the event started in 2003, participants from over 50 countries have taken part.
“It’s been fun,” Mattes said. “It’s fun. It’s very educational. The whole purpose of doing this is to see how diverse we are as a community, how many different kinds of people make up one small community in Indiana.”
Many have been a part of the event from the beginning. Mackenzie Healy is the treasurer for this year’s Junior Beta Class. Her family has been a part of Heritage Day since the beginning, representing Haiti. This year, Healy has been helping organize the event.
“It’s kind of a way to see a different point of view,” Healy said.
New this year to the festival will be Macedonia, and two African countries will also be featured. Each participant will bring a food indigenous to their country, along with items and information to give visitors insight to the country.
“(When we started) I didn’t know so many people that live here represented other countries,” Junior Beta Vice President Emily Taylor said when asked if she learned from the organizing.
Junior Beta members have made a recipe book for adults and a coloring book for children. This year has been busy for the 42-member club of eighth graders as they have done many events for public causes. Among them, they raised $2,500 for the March of Dimes, held a dance for a fellow student who lost her belongings in a fire, and sponsored a water buffalo for a family in Africa.
“I find that junior high kids are so motivated to do things,” Mattes said. “Things like this, they just jump on board and take an active role in.”
In May, the students will have a fundraiser for Habitat for Humanity by staying in cardboard boxes on the lawn of Griffith Elementary.
Tuesday, the Junior Beta members met with Washington Mayor Joe Wellman, who signed a proclamation for Heritage Day on Saturday. Wellman said he hopes they “will be the citizens of the future.”
“They know that helping the community is important,” Wellman said