The crowd of children and parents chanted the numbers in a countdown to 12 p.m. Saturday, and finally at the stroke of noon, 500 balloons fell in celebration of the New Year —12 hours before everyone else celebrated it.

“Besides being a free, fun family activity, most kids can’t stay up till midnight so it’s a way for kids to be involved in the holiday,” said Kate Garrity, executive director of Child Care Network.

The purpose of the free Noon Year’s Eve event at Margaret R. Brown Elementary School in Seymour was to give children a chance to enjoy a holiday they usually sleep through while also raising awareness and providing information about the On My Way Pre-K program and early childhood services available to family in the community.

On My Way Pre-K is a state-funded program currently serving 95 4-year-olds at 13 sites in the county including public and parochial schools and private day care centers.

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“It’s pretty neat, it’s a good way to get the kids out and let them interact with other children,” said Barb Castetter, who attended with her husband Jon, and daughter, Zayley.

“She wouldn’t make it to midnight anyway,” Jon Castetter said of his daughter.

The event, in its second year, is aimed at children between the ages of 2- and 8-years of age.

“The kids are having fun, and it’s great for their age group,” said Sarah Snyder, who attended the event with her children and their grandparents.

Last year, the event was attended by more than 250 people, surprising organizers.

“It exceeded my expectations. We decided to have another this year because of that,” said Garrity.

Garrity said that she hopes that the attendees exceed that number this year.

“We got enough supplies for 500 but we’re hoping for at least 250,” she said.

The event was originally organized and run by the Jackson County Education Coalition but because the coalition didn’t have a project manager during the latter half of 2016, Garrity agreed to take the helm — temporarily.

“They have a project manager now, it’s Erica Woodward,” Garrity said. Woodward, however, wasn’t around when planning for the 2016 Noon Year’s Eve party began.

Several organizations joined the Jackson County Education Coalition and the Child Care Network in organizing and running the event.

Darnell Dukes, director of the Southern Indiana Center for the Arts, set up two crafts stations.

One allowed children to create hats from paper plates, ribbons and bows, while another created noisemakers using the same supplies.

The balloon drop was organized by firefighters with Seymour Fire Department.

“We’re also thankful to Seymour School Corporation for letting us hold this event here,” said Garrity.

The 2015 event was held at The Point, a church on the city’s east side.

Volunteers with the Jackson County 4-H program ran several stations, including a bowling game, golf game and letter matching game.

“Lots of groups in the community came together to put this on,” Garrity said.

“I liked the letters game,” said Levi Cash, who attended the event with his parents and brother, Lukas.

Meanwhile, Lukas Cash, said he enjoyed interacting with ICIE, the Jackson County Education Coalition mascot the most.

“We have one Boy Scout troop here helping out also,” said Garrity.

A snack was provided as part of the event and children who received a stamp mark from each station were invited to win one of three age appropriate prizes.

The event culminated in countdown and balloon drop at noon.

The children gathered under a net filled with balloons and after the countdown the balloons were released above the squealing and cheering children and their parents.

Some of the children claimed balloons to take home before leaving.

“It’s fun,” Levi Cash said.

The On My Way P-K program provides vouchers to low-income families to send their children to a preschool program in the area that has received a Level 3 Paths to QUALITY rating through the state’s Family and Social Services Administration.

A Level 3 out of the four levels means the program has high-quality curriculum in place that supports early childhood learning and school readiness.

Jackson was one of five counties selected by the state in 2014 for the pilot program. Other counties participating are Marion, Allen, Lake and Vanderburgh.

Those counties are larger than Jackson County, which was the only rural county selected. In those counties, there are more students who qualify and more providers.

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Aaron Piper is a photographer and reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at apiper@tribtown.com or 812-523-7057.