Caylee Ledbetter no longer spends time at Girls Inc. of Jackson County after school. Sports and other extracurricular activities have taken much of the 12-year-old’s extra time.
But that didn’t stop her from participating in the organization’s annual Father Daughter Dance for the sixth straight year with her father, Howard.
“I like spending time with my dad and getting out with him since he has to work a lot,” she said before taking part in the evening’s activities.
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The event, which has been organized by the Jackson County United Way agency since the 1980s, drew 338 daughters, fathers, grandfathers and others to take part in dancing, games, pictures and activities.
Caylee said she thinks the evening is special because it is an opportunity for just her and her father to take time to spend a couple of hours together.
“It’s just more meaningful than anything,” she said. “To take time and just spend it here is great.”
Howard Ledbetter said he enjoys each year as an opportunity to pause and spend quality time with his daughter.
“We do the dance competition every year, and we have won it a few times,” he said. “We just have a lot of fun, and it’s time for me and her to be ourselves together in front of everybody. Everybody is the same here. You don’t have to impress anybody, just have a good time with your daughter.”
Howard Ledbetter said he appreciates Girls Inc. organizing the event each year because focusing on relationships between fathers and daughters is important. With hectic schedules and life’s daily grinds, it can be difficult to set an acceptable amount of time aside to spend together, he said.
“The connection of spending time together is really important,” he said. “She’s a softball player, and I miss out on a lot of that because of work. But this is definitely one time a year where for three hours, it’s just me and her and having a good time.
“Her mom took about 35 pictures before we got out of the house and on our way,” he said with a laugh.
The two planned to go to Caylee’s favorite restaurant after the event, Howard said.
“She loves to go to Taco Bell,” he said.
Kelly Royer, project coordinator at Girls Inc., has organized the event each year for the last 10 years, and it holds a special place in her heart.
“My dad used to bring me every year to this event, and I always had a great time,” she said. “Growing up, I had a twin brother, and this was something that just me and my dad would do, and it was always very special.”
Royer said she likes seeing other families take part in the event to share special time together. Many in the community are catching on to how special the event is, Royer said, as the event saw a 99 participant increase from 2015 to 2016.
“I think people are seeing just how special and fun this evening is each year,” she said. “It’s just a time for dads and daughters to get out — and I say dads and daughters as in dads, grandfather, stepfather or a special family friend — that you like to spend time with.”
The event also has a lot to offer for participants. In addition to dancing and the dance competition, the facility’s gymnasium included 13 games, small crafts and other activities. Other rooms throughout the facility had games.
“We have bingo in one of the classrooms,” Royer said.
One of the classrooms served as a photo booth where event-goers could take “selfies” with each other.
With that much activity, the organization relies on a number of volunteers to help pull it off.
“I think when it’s all said and done, about 30 to 40 people have helped out in some way,” Royer said.
It’s a good thing volunteers are willing to put in the time and effort to make the event happen, as Caylee already has her date picked out for next year’s Father Daughter Dance.
“I’m looking forward to it again with my dad,” she said.