Norwich Family Day connects community

Norwich — Families from across the city gathered Sunday at Mohegan Park to take part in the 16th annual Norwich Family Day, a growing Rose City tradition.

Parents and children ate hot dogs and freshly decorated cookies, while groups of siblings danced under perfect blue skies or stood in long, winding lines waiting for custom-made balloon animals and hats to wear for the remainder of the day.

But for the group of organizers who work behind the scenes to put the event on, Norwich Family Day is more than just a four-hour event that takes place each year.

“It’s how we bring the community together. It’s our big family get-together, our happy time to come together in a joyful way,” said Youth & Family Services Coordinator Angelo Callis, who will soon retiring after 34 years working for the bureau.

Sunday’s event was his last as lead organizer — a milestone that Human Services Director Lee-Ann Gomes was sure to point out.

“Behind events like this, there is always a guy. A guy who has meticulously planned and prodded and begged and got money and got people to come here,” said Gomes, who has worked closely with Callis over the past three decades. “And he’s that guy. This is his event and everyone knows that it’s his event, and it’s gotten better over the years.”

Put on by the Norwich Human Services Department — which includes the city’s Adult & Family Services and its Youth & Family Services, the Recreation Department, and the Rose City Senior Center — Norwich Family Day started 16 years ago after the city received funding to host “wide scale community events,” Callis said.

While the event has always been held in Mohegan Park and draws about 1,000 residents who stroll along the booths set up by vendors and community organizations, Callis said the event’s meaning within the community has evolved. 

“As the years went by, I think we all started really understanding why we were doing this and why this was a brilliant thing,” Callis said. “It’s become more embedded, more expected, and people started coming back year after year. It’s really become part of the fabric of this community.”

“We in the bureau, as well as everyone in the community, deal with very difficult things every day,” Callis said, explaining that he and his colleagues work on the front lines helping the city’s youth cope with a range of issues affecting their lives — ranging from trauma and abuse to drug use and gang involvement.

“One of the hardest days I’ve ever had was having to sit with a 5-year-old who had just spent the last four months in seclusion because his father had murdered his mother and step-father,” Callis said. “I had to sit him down and tell him his mother was dead. Something like that seeps into the cracks of your armor.”

“So to then celebrate this, this is our breather,” Callis said. “These are the nice things we get to do. And it’s an important thing because we need to come together. We need that joyful time.”

“It’s like a family,” Callis continued. “You have a tragedy, you have a funeral. But you also need a wedding. You need a baptism. You need that love and closeness. And that’s what this gives the community.”

m.biekert@theday.com

 

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