Monday, December 28, 2009

Tampa Bay Informer
Written by Sirio Balmelli
Monday, 14 December 2009

The Clearwater Community Volunteers held their Anniversary Celebration of the 17th Annual Winter Wonderland Holiday Festival and Charity Drive on December 11th. On the corner of Drew Street and Ft. Harrison Avenue, a Christmas playground has sprung from the barren asphalt of the parking lot behind the Osceola Hotel, driven by the organized tenacity of the Clearwater Community Volunteers (CCV), working with local charities, for the benefit of members of the community.

Parents and children alike began trickling in around 5:30 p.m., finding all in readiness for an evening of holiday fun, from Mrs. Claus’ Cookie Workshop to the elves serving piping hot chocolate from the North Pole Kitchen.

To begin the celebration, Clearwater Boy Scout Troop 313 performed their flag ceremony, followed by the arrival of Santa Claus, who this year seems to have upgraded from the old reindeer-sleigh to a custom red and white Harley Davidson Road Glide with saddlebags enough for an entire city’s-worth of deliveries.

Next, Clearwater Community Volunteers Executive Director Pam Ryan Anderson took the stage, welcoming all who had come and taking the opportunity to thank everyone who had helped make Winter Wonderland a reality, from sponsors like Postcard Mania and BHC Mechanical, to the faculty and students of local schools Clearwater Academy International, Washburn Academy and Delphi Academy, who had volunteered to help finish the Christmas preparations when the recent spells of rough weather delayed completion of Winter Wonderland. As Pam said during her speech, “It takes a village to make this village,” and the festive atmosphere of Winter Wonderland was testament to her words.

Also speaking at ceremony were Deacon Maurice Mickens, of the Mt. Carmel Baptist Church, who invited the crowd to join him in a beautiful prayer to mark the occasion, and Pat Harney, Directory of Community Affairs for the Church of Scientology. The Church of Scientology is a major sponsor of the event, providing the grounds for Winter Wonderland to CCV since its first holiday season in 1993. Mrs. Harney shared a quote from Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard: “On the day when we can fully trust each other, there will be peace on earth.”

By the end of the ceremony, Winter Wonderland was positively swarming with young and old alike—taking pictures with Santa, riding the ponies, visiting the Bouncy House or otherwise enjoying the festive mood of a small village entirely dedicated to the celebration of the spirit of Christmas.

As the chill wind brought low-flying thunderclouds scudding overhead, promising rain to come, community volunteer and promising vocalist Sally Gatza strode on stage, unleashing a stunning repertoire of Christmas cheer. It was hard to comprehend how this 13-year-old could weave such complex harmonies and fill the air with the soulful crooning she did, but one and all enjoyed her singing, and the crowd grew to fill the village near to bursting. Also steadily filling was the enormous sleigh where visitors deposited unwrapped toys and non-perishable food items destined for children and families who might otherwise have to do without; supporting Winter Wonderland’s annual toy and food-drive activities. By the time Sally had finished, and the Tricky Dog Show had taken over the stage, fun irreversibly filled the air, ever-enhancing the magic of Winter Wonderland till nights end.

Winter Wonderland remains open until the 20th of December, and freely welcomes all members of the community to come in and enjoy the holiday spirit. Happy Holidays!

For more information on Winter Wonderland or the CCV, visit

Story reprinted with permission of the Tampabay Informer