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Auburn festival more than just fun

Only two years ago, Auburn-Gresham resident Pam Walker-Smith began selling stone jewelry out of a small box.

On Saturday, Sept. 8, she became one of more than 80 vendors selling wares and offering services at the 79th Street Renaissance Festival. These days, her hobby has become a business, Divine Stones, and her inventory is much larger.

Photo: Maureen Kelleher

Local entrepreneur Pam Walker-Smith shows off the box from which she started her Divine Stones jewelry business.

"We could use three tables," Walker-Smith said. She attributes the growth of her business to a mix of divine inspiration and inner drive. "God's grace and mercy is right here. It's a passion."

Spirit and passion were visible all over 79th Street during the festival, with about 4,000 attendees strolling among the colorful booths. The youngest fest-goers rode ponies, explored the petting zoo and took turns jumping inside three inflatable moonwalks. Older youth and teens practiced structured basketball drills and blazed through two-minute scrimmages.

Seniors visited St. Sabina's Elders Village for a free lunch. All ages enjoyed gospel music, praise dancers and local legends like the South Shore Drill Team and the Jesse White Tumblers.

Photo: Ernest Sanders, GADC

Hundreds watch as the Jesse White Tumblers take to the air.

But the festival offered more than just food, fun and games. Resident Shaquella Tinner went home laden with two bags of freebies from the hospitals, service agencies and city departments that were present.

"I got school supplies for my daughter," she said. "In future time, I might want to buy a house. I got information."

Tinner also signed up with Terrance Miller of Kennedy-King College, who was recruiting students for their GED and other adult education programs. Six other education programs recruited as well, including DeVry University, which offers free programs for high school students.

Though she drew in attendees with a raffle, DeVry outreach specialist Alice Dungey said, "A lot of people are asking deeper questions, too."

Even the games were more than just games. A group called In the Paint Basketball brings free, high-quality coaching and structure to youth more familiar with street ball.

"The kids are accustomed to playing in unstructured environments," says founder Mike Robinson, a former college and professional player. "If they have any ambition of playing in college, they've got to learn the right way."

Robinson and his team of college players were there to show them how: teaching stretching, leading drills and closely refereeing scrimmages.

Meanwhile, adults were also getting fired up for physical fitness. Kimberely Rudd, who owns a new Curves franchise in the neighborhood, says she gathered 96 names of women interested in a free trial of the workout program. Of those, 65 were from the neighborhood.

"These were not just names," she said. "I really got a chance to talk to the ladies. I could wag my finger in their face when they would say, 'I want to exercise, but I just don't have time.' "

DeVry's Dungey best summed up the day, saying it was "one of those days where the weather is perfect, the people are friendly, everything's just coming together."

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