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Reach for the Stars: Hyack Festival Association focused on New West in 2024

New Westminster association puts youth ambassador program on hold and withdraws from U.S.-based festivals organization.
Hyack 2019 - Leavenworth file
A delegation and float from Leavenworth were among the entries in the 2019 Hyack International Parade. The parade is returning in 2022 - and celebrating its 50th anniversary.

2024 is shaping up to be a busy year – and a year of change – for the Hyack Festival Association.

Each year, the president of the New West-based association selects a theme for year ahead – a theme that gets incorporated into Hyack’s float and events.

“The theme this year is Reach for the Stars,” said Jennifer Winning, executive director of the Hyack Festival Association. “That (float) is going to be accompanied by the S Club 7 song, Reach.”

Hyack’s website outlines the meaning behind this year’s Reach for the Stars’ theme, as selected by 2024 president Debora Sutherland.

“The underlying concept revolves around the idea that collectively as a community, we can prosper and achieve our dreams. The message encourages individuals to ‘reach for the stars’ without fear, emphasizing that no one is alone in their journey,” said the website.

“Within our vibrant community, everyone has a place where they belong, and the collective support ensures that no goal is too high to attain. Our community events are the perfect scenarios to build that sense of belonging and community spirit.”

This year, the Hyack Festival Association will be focused on connecting with the local community and having a bigger presence in New West, Winning said.

The association has been a longtime member of the Northwest Festival Hosting Group, which saw the Hyack float, accompanied by Hyack representatives and youth ambassadors, travel to parades in cities around the Pacific Northwest, including Portland, Wenatchee, Leavenworth and Spokane. As part of the NWFHG, many of those American cities brought their floats to New Westminster for the annual Hyack International Parade.

At a Feb. 7 special general meeting, the association voted in favour of withdrawing its participation in the NWFHG parades in the USA.

A statement on Hyack’s website stated it has “proudly cultivated meaningful and cherished relationships with festival groups across the Pacific Northwest in the United States for many years” but is struggling to secure funding for permanent staff and events sponsorships.

“This impacts the performance of our community events and the longevity of the organization,” said the statement.

“The organization learned a valuable lesson in 2020 when the funds depleted and we had to sell our building to preserve the organization; at this time we need to rethink our finances to ensure that the organization fulfills its purpose of providing the residents of New Westminster with community events for many years to come.”

Some Hyack Festival Association members, however, have voiced concerns about the association’s decision to withdraw from the NWFHG and the process leading up to the decision at the recent meeting.

On its website, the Northwest Festivals Hosting Group acknowledged it had received letter from Hyack for its “immediate resignation.” It stated that no vote is required regarding resignations, adding that the group had voted to keep the “weekend open” for one year, for Hyack’s potential return to the organization.

Instead of travelling south of the border to participate in parades, Winning said Hyack’s float will be attending local parades in communities like Pitt Meadows, Coquitlam, Cloverdale and Hope.

“So, almost every weekend we will be part of a local festival, and that’s where our float will be,” she said. “We want to build strong ties with all our neighbouring cities. We started this last year, and now those cities and those floats are going to be joining us at our parade this year.”

This year’s Hyack parade is set to take place on Saturday, May 25. The cities of Burnaby, Kelowna and Port Coquitlam are among the entries that have already signed up to attend the parade.

In addition to the parade, Hyack’ Festival in the Park will take place on May 25 in Tipperary Park.

“The festival in the park is the after-party for the parade, in Tipperary Park,” Winning said. “It will have food trucks, artisan vendors, kids’ activities, a pet zone and live entertainment.”

Hyack’s Farewell to Summer Fireworks Festival is set to return to New Westminster’s waterfront on Saturday, Aug. 24.

Ambassador program changes

The decision not to take part in the Northwest Festivals Hosting Group – which brought entries from around the Pacific Northwest to New Westminster for the parade each May – isn’t the only big change for Hyack in 2024.

The Hyack Festival Association is the longtime organizer of the Hyack Ambassador Youth Leadership Program, whose mandate has been to encourage, educate and empower young women in the New Westminster.

In addition to providing young women with training in areas such as public speaking, it encourages volunteering and provides scholarship opportunities. The program culminates in a gala, where Miss New Westminster is crowned each spring.

According to Winning, the ambassador program is being put on hold this year.

“That is because we want to take some time to update the program,” she said. “We want to partner with other local organizations in the city because we really want to design a program that aligns with what the youth in New West need. That’s going to be our main focus.”

Winning said there will be “lots of outreach to local organizations, lots of collaboration” as Hyack decides how to move forward with the program.

“That’s going to be something that’s going to be really important in 2024,” she said.

By taking a “clean break” from offering the program this year, Winning said Hyack can do the work that’s needed to update and develop a really good program.

“We just really want to design a program that is beneficial for all of the youths,” she said.

In keeping with its focus on New West, Winning said Hyack representatives will also be volunteering around the community and will be participating in other local festivals.

Winning said community members are invited to sign up on the association’s website to become members or volunteers. She said “more hands” are always needed at events like the parade and festivals.

“We are here for our community,” she said. “We are listening to them. We are listening to the feedback that we have gotten. We want to make sure we are an inclusive society.”

📣 SOUND OFF: Do you support the Hyack Festival Association’s decision to withdraw from the Northwest Festival Hosting Group – and send its float to local parades and focus on attracting parade entries from B.C.? How do you feel about its decision to put the ambassador program on hold while it works to update the program? Send us a letter.