Freedom Fest's free entertainment inspires smiles

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Frank Schultz
Saturday, June 28, 2014

JANESVILLE—Freedom isn't free, the saying goes, but nearly everything at the annual Freedom Fest is.

“It's free,” was the answer of nearly everyone interviewed on the fest grounds when asked why they were there.

Fest-goers paid nothing to enter, for carnival rides or the health clinic.

The only places people had to open their wallets were the food stands and booths selling novelties.

A Gazette crew visited the fest grounds at New Life Assembly of God on the city's northeast side in the early afternoon, before the expected throngs packed in for the evening's entertainment: Christian contemporary music, a renowned motivational speaker and the fireworks—all free.

People came from as far away as Kansas, Pennsylvania and Florida to see Mandisa, a former “American Idol” contestant who packs inspirational messages in her songs.

“It's free, but it's so family-oriented,” said Jill Kalas of Edgerton.

“You feel kids are going to be safe, instead of a bunch of hoodlums running around,” added Dave Kostinek of Janesville.

“I think they definitely are giving back to the community,” said Jill's husband, Nate Kalas. He wasn't the only one who expressed thanks to New Life for offering the event.

Jessica Klingaman of Janesville said she has attended the fest since it started more thana decade ago. There's no beer tent or “people being belligerent,” she said.

“Something different from the norm,” added Klingaman's boyfriend, Brandon Tobias.

Tobias and Klingaman both brought their children.

“It's just for the kids' enjoyment, mostly,” Klingaman said,

“Not too much riffraff around here. We don't have to worry about the kids,” Tobias added.

Klingaman appreciated New Life's efforts: “They're all about promoting the community and family. Not a lot of families can afford to take the kids to the carnival and let them go wild on the rides.”

Paulette Castillo said she would not be able to afford this kind of entertainment for her children at a county fair, but she was looking around for a place to donate and said she wouldn't mind paying something for the rides.

“They do a wonderful thing for the public,” Castillo said.

Freedom Fest bills itself as a “family-friendly, Christ-honoring, patriotic event.”

Fest-goers seemed not much different from those at the Rock County 4-H Fair: families with little kids and small packs of young teens lining up for rides, the thrill-drenched screams of their peers wafting over the warm, humid grounds.

“It's really wonderful, and all the sponsors are local,” said Laura Williams of Beloit, who brought her two children as well as two other kids from the neighborhood.  “I think that's awesome, and it's a Christian event. I thank them. It's well put together.”

The Rev. Michael Jackson of New Life said the sponsors chipped in $79,000 this year, and more comes from vendors' fees and donations made by fest-goers on the grounds.

Jackson expected the fair to end the day in the black, with some left over to plow into next year's fest.

The fest offered a spiritual-counseling tent, and churches had tables under a tent to promote themselves, but there did not appear to be any hard selling of religion.

“People talk about community, but this is community with a funny face,” Pastor Jackson said as he drove a golf cart on the grounds, greeting people and making sure things ran smoothly.

The fest featured free used clothing and a giveaway of bags of food for the needy, provided by Convoy of Hope, a faith-based organization. Blue shopping bags to carry the food were provided by Blackhawk Community Credit Union.

James Neely drove the semitrailer load of food from Convoy of Hope's headquarters in Missouri on Thursday. He helped set up the fest and Friday agreed to drive shuttle-carts from the parking area to the fest grounds.

He was one of 500 volunteers who make the fest possible, Jackson said.

Volunteers included 20 churches and six service organizations who “are coming together to make Janesville better, for a day,” Jackson said.

Neely said his organization puts on its own festivals across the country, helps during disasters and supports events such as Freedom Fest.

Neely said he just loves to help. He was all grins as he ferried people to and from their cars.

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