A Putnam County New Year's Eve tradition: Teenagers plot house parties and parents scramble to lock down scarce babysitters. This year it could be different.
A new local company, Invent Your Events, founded by local educators, coaches and parents will sponsor what they are calling "the ultimate New Years Eve party," at the Putnam County Fairgrounds. They are doing it to address an eternal complaint issued by Putnam County youth and their parents: "There is nothing to do on New Year's Eve."
"It's one of the biggest problems we face," said Karen Hayes, a partner in Invent Your Event. "It's that way in all small towns … this New Year's kids can get out of the house and have a blast while parents go out and have a good time," she said. "It's two for one, and safe for both."
Hayes, the mother of three and a local youth basketball coach, co-founded the party planning operation with two other long-time Putnam County residents, Tamra (Garnes) Walker, who is assistant principal at a local elementary school and Nicol Brown. Both Brown and Hayes have become elementary school celebrities for throwing legendary parties in children's classrooms.
So what is the ultimate party?
To meet everyone's needs, the ultimate party is actually two separate events.
The first is a carnival for first- through fifth-grade students and will include carnival games, cotton candy, dancing, face painting and karaoke. The second party is a 1970s disco for middle and high school students featuring costume contests, a dance competition and free photos.
According to Hayes and her partners, planning the elaborate celebration is only one aspect of their business. Ensuring safety for kids and the comfort of parents is their chief concern. The safety measures taken by the start-up are significant.
The ratio of adult chaperones to students to will be 1-10.
Parents will have to register emergency contact information and may provide details of their children's special needs ranging from medication to food allergies.
Hays says that each young partygoer will be signed into the event by an adult who will also provide specific instructions regarding who will take that child home.
Every person will be issued a bracelet when they enter, and like a high school dance, teenagers who chose to leave the event will not be allowed to re-enter.
"There's an increased risk of trouble around any holiday," said Putnam County Sheriff Mark Frisbie. "Anytime someone can provide a safe alternative, it's beneficial."
Frisbie, who agrees that teenage fun is not exactly at a premium in Putnam County, hopes that the New Year's event is a success.
"People have tried this type of thing in the past, but unfortunately they have not met much long-term success," he said. "Hopefully, this go-round the community will rally behind them and give them some support. This is definitely something the community needs."
Tzouanakis Elementary Principal Dan Tegrotenhuis has gotten behind the project by donating carnival games from the school's Fall Festival.
"It's a neat thing to do," he said after acknowledging that a shortage of reliable babysitters can weigh heavily on the minds of local parents as the end of the year approaches.
"It's nice for parents to go out on New Year's Eve and know that the kids are safe and having a good time."
Though Invent Your Event typically gears their business toward larger urban areas, partner Walker says that for an event like this, staying close to their Putnam County roots was important.
"We decided to stay right here at home," she said, "and do this in a small community that really needs it."
"If it goes well," said Karen Hayes, "Well do it again and again and again."
Ticket prices for the event are steep -- $40, but once in the door ticket holders won't need a dime. According to Hayes, everything from the pizza, snacks, face painting and games, to the gift bags, contests and memory photos are all included in the ticket price.
"We'd love to do this for free," she said. "But if you're paying for it, your kids are going to have a blast."
Tickets for the New Year's Eve bash will be available at Fine Print Bookstore on Tuesday, Dec. 18 from 4-6 p.m. and on Saturday, Dec. 22 from noon-5 p.m. Tickets and registration forms are also available at www.inventyourevents.com and can be purchased through a Paypal account. For specific questions, call Karen Hayes at (765) 894-5404.
Those interested in attending are encouraged to purchase tickets in advance, as space is limited.