Social Eyes by Faye Reeder

Eyes on Arlington: Animal Essay Contest offers valuable prizes and lessons for kids

The 2016 animal essay contest winners.
The 2016 animal essay contest winners. Courtesy photo

Regardless of our age, among our most precious relationships are the ones we have with our pets. And treating our furry friends with respect and responsibly providing for their needs is the foundation of these special relationships. Teaching children early how to care for animals is the key for them to experience the pleasure of a life enriched with pets.

The annual animal essay contest now underway for Arlington children in grades 3-6 not only enables youngsters to realize how animals fit into society but also helps improve their writing skills. Each grade level is asked to write an essay on a different topic, and the winners in each grade win impressive prizes.

“Arlington Animal Services places a great value in educating our youth to become responsible pet owners,” said Angie Rayburn-Pigat who is in charge of the essay contest. “In our 16th year now, we here at AAS continue to show the benefits of pet knowledge with healthy, happy animals.”

Third graders are asked to write on the topic of what animal or insect they would be if they had wings and why. Students in 4th grade will opine on what pets need in addition to food, water and shelter. What things should be done to improve the life of pets is the essay topic for 5th grade students, and 6th graders’ essays will look into the future to imagine how animal shelters might look in the year 2060.

Essays will be judged on focus and coherence, organization, development of ideas, voice and conventions.

Contestants can work with their teacher on getting their essay submitted, or essays can be hand-delivered to the Water Customer Service Desk at City Hall or to the South Service Center at 1100 SW Green Oaks Blvd. or the Animal Services Center, 1000 S.E. Green Oaks Blvd.

Entries are due by 5 p.m. on Jan. 13. Contact Angelina.RayburnPigat@arlingtontx.gov with questions. Check out the contest guidelines and rules at www.arlington-tx.gov/animals/animal-essay-contest/

Partnerships for Arlington targets good causes from water bill donations

Enable a needy child to participate in youth programs, or help the animals at the shelter, or perhaps assist a struggling family pay a utility bill. These are a few of the causes you can donate to via your water bill.

Nearly $130,000 has been generously donated through the water bill Partnerships for Arlington program during the past four years. The gifting program — established in 2005 — invites Arlington residents to make a one-time donation or to spread their donation out in recurring amounts on each water bill.

Donors can choose where to apply their tax-deductible gift: animal services; Build a Dream scholarships for Parks and Recreation youth programs; Care & Share utilities assistance, Arlington Public Library, public art, and urban forest efforts.

“The Partnerships for Arlington program gives Arlington residents a convenient way to donate to the charitable causes they care about,” said Arlington Water Utilities Director Buzz Pishkur. “Arlington Water Utilities is proud to perform this service for the city.”

According to city officials, the program received nearly $23,000 in donations this year with around $16,000 from one-time contributions and another $7,000 from recurring donations.

Although the Water Utilities Department manages the front end of the donor program, the only funds retained by the department are those designated for the Care & Share program created to help families in temporary emergencies such as unemployment or serious illness with their utility bills. Catholic Charities of Fort Worth administers the program that this year provided $20,000 to families who were faced with the tough choice of feeding the family or paying a bill.

“By coming into Catholic Charities and being assisted with Arlington’s Water Care & Share program, families do not have to choose one or the other,” said Toni Haynes from Catholic Charities. “They can provide food for their family and know that they’ll still have water. This program is more than simply paying a bill. It gives clients hope and faith in overcoming obstacles and ability to face other challenges.”

During this holiday season of giving, there may be no better time to decide to participate in Partnerships for Arlington and be a part of strengthening your city’s quality of life. To sign up, simply choose your favorite fund on the return portion of your water bill. If you pay online, you can sign up there. To learn more, visit http://www.arlington-tx.gov/water/care-share-program/.

Walking and driving tours offered at Prairie Lights

What do Fergie and Josh Duhamel, Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood have in common with the Prairie Lights Christmas show in Grand Prairie? Each of these celebs chose clever circumstances to reveal their baby’s gender, but none holds a candle to the baby reveal that happened recently at this local holiday attraction.

On a recent night, an expectant couple from the Dallas/Fort Worth area gathered friends and family in the amazing Holiday Magic Walk-through Forest at Prairie Lights for a party centered around their much anticipated announcement. In the magical setting of the lighted winter wonderland, the couple opened a gigantic Christmas gift that released a flood of blue balloons to announce that a baby boy would soon join the family.

Mae Smith, the coordinator behind the Prairie Lights park show, said it was the first baby reveal event at the park. “There’s no place more unique than the wonderful meandering path in our walk-through section for special occasions,” Smith said. “During the past 11 years, we’ve had 24 marriage proposals — three of them this year. And couples even come back here for their anniversaries.”

The main event is the two-mile drive through at the park featuring four million lights. It attracted nearly 200,000 visitors last year, and similar results are expected with the all-new displays that Josh Barnett Productions from Bakersfield, CA has created this year. Smith said guests are dazzled by the clever new themes like the Steampunk Christmas and the Space Christmas themed areas that feature Star Wars displays and even a Yetti village.

An all-new laser show inside the Holiday Village Theater (where it actually snows on the audience) is easily the second-most-popular attraction at this year’s Prairie Lights. “We have theater-style and bleacher seating for the laser phenomenon that features a story about Santa searching for an alien to fulfill a little boy’s Christmas wish,” Smith said.

In order to bring an entirely new experience each year, Smith said partnerships with similar parks in Round Rock, Sugarland and Costa Mesa, California were formed. The Grand Prairie displays move on to these cities after their debut at Prairie Lights.

In addition to the Walk-through Forest where enchanting lighted scenes depict how the holiday season is celebrated around the world (don’t miss the Gumdrop Alley), other out-of-car experiences in the Holiday Village include a chance to visit Santa and rides on a twirling Dumbo or a carousel — all at no charge beyond the admission fee. The Grand Prairie Chamber is offering photos with Santa for a small charge to raise money for local charities. Concessions are also available.

When asked what her personal favorite was in the park, Smith said: “For me it’s the segment just before you reach the incredible tunnel of lights near the end of the tour. It’s called Poinsettia Land and has the most vibrant, spectacular poinsettia displays. There is a magnificent deer at the end of the road with his antlers all covered in poinsettias. Right after this, we have our beautiful Happy New Year display, and the very last thing is our display that honors our folks in military service.”

Prairie Lights definitely offers an epic holiday experience, and the best way to get the max pleasure is to visit on Monday-through Thursday early in the evening when lines are much shorter than on weekends. Visit www.PrairieLights.org to get directions and admission prices. Be sure to search for discount coupons on Facebook and Twitter before you go. The park is located on the shores of Joe Pool Lake in Lynn Creek Park, 5610 Lake Ridge Pkwy, and is open through New Year’s Day.

Briefly

Jiggle Butt Run is Jan. 7 at the E.H. Hereford University Center at UTA. The 5K and Expo benefits SafeHaven. Details and registration at www.jigglebuttrun.com.

Arlington Genealogical Society will meet Jan. 10 at 6:30 p.m. Special guest is genealogist, Barbara Brixey Wylie speaking on "Ya Gotta Know the Territory." She will explain how to find ancestors using both nontech and high-tech methods. The meeting location is the Arlington West Police Service Station, 2060 W. Green Oaks Blvd. The public is welcome to attend. Details at www.arlingtongenealogytx.org.

The Animal Angel Tree at Arlington Animal Services is awaiting donations from generous people. Each tag on the tree lists an item the shelter needs for the pets. Gifts needed range from dish soap to animal blankets and paper towels. The tree is in the lobby of the shelter at 1000 SE Green Oaks Blvd. Or donate online and visit this Amazon gift wishlist and have an item delivered directly to the shelter.

The 2017 Pet Lovers Calendar is now on sale. The 14-month calendar features winning photos from the pet photo contest, and it makes a great gift. The cost is $8, and proceeds benefit the shelter. Calendars will be available at Jo-Eds Bomber sandwich shop, the South water department, the main Water Utilities Department lobby located at City Hall and at the shelter. Or purchase online at arlingtonwebstore.com/aascaledar2011-3-1-1-1-2-1-1.aspx

Adopt a pet for a Christmas gift and enjoy the special holiday adoption fee of $25. The offer is good until Dec. 31 and includes spay/neuter, city license, microchip, core vaccines, rabies vaccines and other testing services. Be sure to consider the lifetime responsibilities of pet ownership before deciding to give a pet for Christmas.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone. Thank you for reading Eyes on Arlington during 2016, and I look forward to getting your news tips during 2017 so that charity events and programs can get the attention they so richly deserve.

Please send your Eyes on Arlington news tips to freeder@star-telegram.com. Keep up with even more community news by liking our page on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/SocialEyes.ST. Twitter: @FayeReeder

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