Courier Staff Writer
Everyone had their eyes on the sky during the second annual Tenco Family Fun Day this weekend.
Brenda Miller, Tenco’s marketing and development director, said after a jungle-themed event last year, the Tenco employees decided an “out of this world” space theme would be a good change.
“Kids really like this, but there’s something here for every age,” Miller said.
Tenco Industries helps individuals with disabilities secure employment and become involved in the community.
“We just really started out with it being a nice awareness for people,” Miller said. “Our folks are very capable individuals and can run games and do all sorts of things. Last year was a real eye opener to people to see how much they really could do.”
People with disabilities are capable of doing anything they set their mind to, Miller said.
“I think it was wonderful to see the volunteers from our community working side by side and learning just how competent those who have challenges really are,” she said.
The event surpassed last year in terms of volunteerism with 125 volunteers turning out to help, including Tenco employees and Job Corps, OHS and Indian Hills students.
Fun Day began as a way to show the community what Tenco is about and how it helps those with disabilities.
“With their admission, so much comes with it,” Miller said of the $8 admission for those above age 3. “I think the main importance is awareness of what Tenco is all about. Our individuals are able to run these games, it’s just a little more of a struggle for them — but they’ll get there.”
Tenco employees have the same hopes and dreams as everyone else, Miller said.
“This provides opportunities for them,” she said. “It’s all about them gaining their independence.”
The event will be planned in February every year, she said, because there’s not much going on in town, and it gets families out of the house during the cold winter months.
“It’s really huge to these folks,” Miller said of the organization. “It doesn’t do them any good to sit in front of a TV all day. And there’s that excitement of being with each other and making friends.”
Each Fun Day will also have an educational aspect to it, she said. Last year Tenco brought in animals from Blank Park Zoo. This year featured the Indian Hills laser technology and robotics departments, as well as a constellation station from the Great Prairie Area Education Agency.
Two Ottumwa High School science teachers, Heather Swanstrom and Richard Wortmann, manned the tent. Children could crawl into the large bubble and look skyward as Wortmann projected the night sky and taught them how to look for each constellation.
Because of all of the street, car, residential and traffic lights in Ottumwa, it’s hard to see all of the constellations, Wortmann said.
“Light pollution washes out more than half of the stars in the sky,” he said. “But drive 6 miles out of town and you’ll see 1,000 more stars.”
Events like this get children interested “in a world outside of their cell phones, TVs and movies,” he said.
“It can be harder to keep their attention since I’m not an app on their cell phone,” he said.
When children crawled into the tent, Wortmann showed them all the different constellations they would be able to see at around 8:30 p.m. Saturday, including Orion, Canis Major and the Big Dipper.
“Winter is the best time of the year for viewing, actually, because of sky conditions,” he said. “There are also more bright and colored stars as well.”