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Let there be light: Ardmore Arbuckle Sunrise Rotary Clubs helps open Festival of Lights for the season

Drew Butler
Members of the Ardmore Sunrise Rotary Club greet a vehicle pulling into the Festival of Lights on Saturday.
The Ardmore Sunrise Rotary Club volunteered to work the opening night at the Festival of lights. Volunteers greeted vehicles as they pulled in and collected donations as they left.

The Festival of Lights officially opened its gates at Ardmore Regional Park on Saturday evening. The drive-through light display will run Sunday through Thursday from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. and Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. through December 30.

Different nonprofit or community service organizations volunteer to staff the event each night, and all donations collected that evening are split between the organization and the festival itself. The groups are there to greet the vehicles and give directions as visitors drive in as well as collect donations as they leave. On Saturday night, the Ardmore Arbuckle Sunrise Rotary Club was there to kick off the festival for opening night.

Rotarian John Gibbs said they have been a part of the Festival of Lights from the very beginning.

“We’ve done this every year since the beginning, and it’s something we look forward to,” Gibbs said. “It’s a bit of a fundraiser for us, but we like to think of it as a community service project.”

Rotarian Melanie Blackburn described what it's like to volunteer at the event.

“It’s always a really fun night, and we get to meet people from all over the place — it’s not just people from Ardmore who drive through,” she said. “I’m glad that we get to be a part of it.”

Gibbs said their organization will actually be volunteering at the event for four nights this year, and are available to fill in if another organization has to cancel. Gibbs said their members divide the evening into shifts, with some taking the first half and others coming in to finish it out.

This year they will also be volunteering on Christmas Eve.

“That’s always a huge night with a lot of people coming through,” Gibbs said. “A lot of people have family visiting, and it’s something they can all get out and enjoy.”

Gibbs said the Ardmore Arbuckle Sunrise Rotary club does several other community service projects.

“One of our biggest projects is providing a hardcover dictionary to every third grader in Carter County,” Gibbs said. “The teachers and the kids love it, and it’s something that we’re known for.

Rotarian Jim Welch said they also do work with Take Two Academy. They select a student of the month, and also contributed to the recently opened Gresham Garden.

“Every year we have the opportunity to apply for a grant project from our district,” Welch said. “This year we applied that grant to help furnish the inside of the greenhouse. Our club paid for 20% and the district paid for 80%.

Anyone interested in joining the Ardmore Arbuckle Sunrise Rotary club can apply by attending a few meetings and asking to join. The group meets at 7 a.m. every Thursday at the Ardmore Public Library.  While the members take a vote to allow new members to join, Welch said nobody has ever been turned down.

“If someone wants to be a part of our group and be of service to the community, we’re happy to have them. “We have not turned anyone down.”