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Posted on Fri. May. 30, 2014 - 12:01 am EDT

Riverpalooza features talent of youth around city

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If you go

What: Riverpalooza

When: 10 a.m. Saturday; Almost Famous talent showcase begins at 2 p.m.

Where: Historic Wells Street Bridge, North Wells Street

Admission: Free, activity fees may apply; go to for more information

Karen Richards doesn’t mind working with the 22 teenagers on the Mayor’s Youth Engagement Council – it keeps her young.

“In fact, sometimes they have to catch up with me,” says Richards, the community liaison for the Fort Wayne mayor’s office. “But they have ideas. It’s very surprising when I sit in their meetings and hear what they are aspiring to do.”

Some of their aspirations will be showcased at Riverpalooza, an inaugural event that takes the annual Almost Famous talent showcase for the city’s youth and opens it up to a family event Saturday on the historic Wells Street Bridge.

“We have such a focus on the rivers and downtown right now, so it just made sense to play into everything that’s going on with that,” Richards says. “It’s important to bring in all the youth from different high schools, and give them the ability to show off what they do while making it a family event, so it doesn’t just cater to a handful of teenagers who may or may not be able to make it downtown.”

Nicole Keesling, a senior at Canterbury High School, says that the students, ranging from sophomores to seniors, have been learning about the city’s rivers by taking pontoon boat rides, visiting the Three Rivers Filtration plant and helping to clean the surrounding riverbanks with the Friends of the Rivers organization. She says the students wanted this year’s event to reflect what they learned.

“We had just toured the water filtration plant, and Karen (Richards) was talking to us a lot about the legacy money the government was putting into river studies and the Ash Brokerage Firm being developed downtown, and what the investment meant for the city and for the rivers. We came to the realization that we wanted to leave a mark on Fort Wayne,” she says. “We wanted to do something important and relevant to the city that we could be proud of.”

There will be volunteer music performers opening before the Almost Famous talent show takes place at 2 p.m. The members decided this year to make the showcase more of an open mic event for their selected performers than a contest.

There will also be a “Build-A-Boat” race in which participants will be able to construct boats with cardboard and duct tape to float across St. Marys River, as well as Fort Wayne Outfitters providing kayaks and canoes to rent. Richards says the Concordia Row Team will have four stationary row boats on the water for participants who want to try it out, and if they want the real experience, the row team will be available for rides. Richards says the students plan to use the proceeds made from sponsorships and activities to benefit Crossroad Child and Family Services and also to fund a potential community boat house.

“Concordia is the only row team in the city, but there’s a lot of scholarship money that colleges give to row teams. It would be really neat if we could kick this off and get other high schools involved in rowing,” she says.

Although half the council’s members are seniors, busy in their final months before graduation, Richards says the members have taken on responsibilities for the venue’s logistics, as well as marketing and sponsorship sales, which fully funded this year’s event.

“I would feel like I had failed if they didn’t learn something from the logistics part of it,” she says. “Half of them are seniors, and most of them are not staying here for school. We talk about the quality of life but unless they see it, and unless they engage themselves in it; … they’re going to look forward to coming back to Fort Wayne for Christmas and other holidays. They are going to look for other place to go instead of coming home and visiting.”

Keesling says although there has been many late nights getting marketing materials ready and plenty of runs downtown to print papers off, she is happy to find out how much she has been capable of making ideas become reality.

“If I said it hasn’t been stressful, I would be lying,” Keesling says laughing. “It has been a very stressful, but rewarding process. Before this, I didn’t know what went into a marketing campaign or how to call people for sponsorship money, but Karen has really let us take the rein.

“I know her No.1 goal was to put on a great event, but I also think that another goal was to make sure we learn not just about downtown Fort Wayne, but about ourselves and about what we can do.”

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