By SHERIDAN CYR
The 50th Southington Apple Harvest Festival will commemorate its vibrant history by celebrating traditions, but it will also be jam-packed with new twists and surprises for attendees to enjoy.
This year, for the first time, the AHF hostess program was opened to young men. The list of AHF Queens could potentially see a King in 2018 when a winner is crowned at the gala on Thursday.
This year’s group includes Asami Castellano, Kate Hardy, Brianna Harris, Kate Kemnitz, Avery Korp, Johanna Lasbury, Michael McLaughlin, Trevor Messina, Isabella Miani, Callie Natelli, Kate Olsen, Bianca Spataro, Autumn Swain and Emma Woicicki.
“The gala always celebrates and acknowledges the hostess program, and this year, we were able to include young men in the program,” said AHF coordinator Melissa Ericksen-Cocuzza. “The program is promoted at the end of the school year and is open to juniors and seniors.”
Erin Bard, chair of the host/hostess program, said the addition of the men has worked out great.
“We love having them. They’re vocal about their concerns and needs, and have great ideas for community outreach,” said Bard. “They all get along extremely well, and a lot of them are friends with each other. They fit in easily. They’re just one of the gang.”
In the early days of the festival, there was a separate program which crowned a man as Johnny Appleseed, but it is unclear how many years that went on or when it fizzled out. The chamber of commerce would publish one hint each week in the local paper and encourage residents to send in their guesses. Whoever was the first to guess correctly would receive a $25 savings bond.
The host/hostess program is about much more than a crown. The young men and women are heavily involved in the community all summer long leading up to the festival, volunteering at the weekly Music on the Green and the farmer’s market soliciting volunteers for the festival, collecting donations for the Southington food pantry and the dog pound.
They also offered face painting for the little ones at those weekly events, and helped with gardening at the new Calendar House this year.
“A huge part of the program is to give back and feel connected to their community,” said Bard. “They all have so much pride in where they come from and they just shine and want to help everybody, and tell them about their town.”
This year’s Queen…or King…will be crowned at the AHF gala this Thursday, and that’s the unofficial start of the annual festival, which opens officially next Friday, Sept. 28.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Sheridan Cyr, email her at SCyr@SouthingtonObserver.com.