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RivahFest—June 19, 2010
Good for the Mind, Heart, and Community  

One day each summer, downtown Tappahannock becomes a homecoming celebration. Thousands of people who have called Essex County home, along with thousands of others who simply love the area, gather for RivahFest, a community festival now in its 8th year. There’s something about strolling through the historic streets of town, spying kind and familiar faces, or enjoying a local crab cake sandwich, that keeps the air brewing with nostalgia. And isn’t that what a community festival is all about?

Actually, RivahFest is about a lot of things. Of course it’s about fun, welcoming visitors of all ages. There’s a variety of musical entertainment, water activities, games and rides for the kids, shopping, tons of food, a wine and beer garden, a historical tour, and a little something for everyone to enjoy from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. this June 19.

Yet even the fun has its intangible benefits, like developing a sense of community. “RivahFest promotes family togetherness and support of your neighbors,” said Katherine Newman, who along with Libbie Franklin co-chairs the event. “You might turn out to cheer for a neighbor’s child performing in RivahFest Idol, or to check out a friend’s pottery booth. Since people are too busy to stop by a friend’s house these days, this has become the day to catch up with people and celebrate.”

But those who work tirelessly to plan the event know that RivahFest also has other benefits. After all, before the big day is through, thousands of hours will have been put in by over a hundred volunteers. Local civic organizations and civil service employees work hard to make it a safe and fun event. They continue to put in the time each year, knowing it’s good for the community as a whole.

RivahFest is also about giving back. Since it started in 2003, surplus funds have been set aside to build a fund to reinvest in the community. The Grant Committee accepts applications each year and awards several local organizations funding to start or continue worthy projects.
“The Christmas Mother program couldn’t have come as far as we have this year without the RivahFest funds,” said Heather Taylor, who headed the program that aided 400 children this past Christmas. $1,000 in RivahFest grant money helped purchase clothes, toys, and personal items for kids in the Essex County area. Funding also went to the Community Food Bank, the Damon Davis Sheriff’s Scholarship, and the Haven Shelter.

Another grant recipient was the Purple Pride Thrift Shop, which opened in February. Peggy Hodges, special education teacher at Essex High School, raves about what her students have been able to accomplish with their funds. “An amazing transformation has taken place,” said Hodges. “The kids are learning that things cost money, that people work to earn things, and their social skills have improved tremendously.” Startup funding for the project helped to purchase merchandise, clothing racks, hangers, bags, and the other basic items it takes to run a business, said Hodges, adding, “This store is our new classroom.”

RivahFest also stimulates our local economy, a much-needed benefit in these tough times. “We felt it was a great way to increase visibility of the store and the product lines that we carry,” said Jennie Beck, co-owner of Riverside Accents & Gifts, which purchased a booth spot after buying their business last year. “This event provides a boost to local businesses and provides visitors a wonderful glimpse of what the Tappahannock area has to offer.”

Chamber of Commerce President David Broad estimates—conservatively—that the event has drawn 100,000 festival-goers since 2003. By drawing visitors to the area—think Olympics, on a smaller scale—each dollar spent on June 19 is actually spent several times over. Money spent with the local grocery store, inn, or gift shop will be used to pay the clerk or staff member, who will in turn spend it back in the community.

The list of what RivahFest is “about” goes on and on. Our rich local history, cuisine, appreciation of arts and agriculture, and…well, you kinda just have to be there to understand.

And naturally, there’s also “the Rivah” at the heart of our festival. Virginia-born author Russell Baker knew what he was talking about when he said, “Ah, summer, what power you have to make us suffer and like it.” Yes, summertime in Virginia is—well, it’s hot. But our precious Rappahannock River serves as both sweet relief and a stunning spectacle, conjuring recollections that stretch back to childhood. RivahFest, in turn, gives us river views and aromas, food and drink, activities and memories, and a spirit of generosity that make it a homecoming worthy of Tappahannock and Essex County.

—By Monica W. Moore—contributing writer