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Making connections: FreeFest has final event at Ro-Na Theater in Ironton

“So, did anyone here make new friends,” asked Susan Heald, of Impact Prevention and the Community Collective project, to the crowd assembled on Saturday afternoon at the Ro-Na Theater in downtown Ironton.

It wasn’t a rhetorical question — it was the whole point of the FreeFest Connect aLive activities of the past two months.

“It’s been a success,” Heald said. “We have met our goals and our dreams and exceeded our expectations.”

FreeFest, which Impact Prevention did in conjunction with Ironton aLive, had weekly open mic nights at Iron Town Coffee Lab, bowling and laser tag at Spare Time, and the Ro-Na Day event on Saturday brought about 450 people to the restored theater. There were inflatables, face painting, food, vendor booths and students from Ironton High School dressed up as Disney characters.

Impact Prevention got a grant to hold events to create community connectiveness and Heald said the number of people attending the events was far more than she had hoped for. For instance, many of the open mic nights drew 80 people to Iron Town Coffee Lab and “that gave me chills, it made the hair on my arms stand up,” Heald said.

And Iron Town Coffee Lab owner Dick Fisher is going to continue to have the open mic nights on Friday evenings.

Sam Heighton, the executive director of Ironton aLive, said the whole idea was to get people in the community to connect with other people.

“We want to get people out of isolation, which is a trend nowadays,” he said. “I kept telling people to meet somebody new, you’re out, it is time to connect.”

He said the last event at Spare Time on April 15 attracted 250 people.

“You know people connected,” he said. “So, we are delighted.”

Ironton aLive will be having community events this summer through its Parks aLive program.

“We want to get people outside and get the same results,” Heighton said.

Heald said she thinks one of the reasons the events were so popular is because there was no cost.

“A lot of families can’t afford to go have fun, so we provided opportunities for free bouncy house, free bowling and free laser tag and free food,” she said. “And we hope this partnership between Impact Prevention and Ironton aLive and our funder, the Ohio Mental Health and Addiction Service agency, has set an example for communities of what can be done to help connect people.”