Below is a reprint of an article in the 8-12-15 edition of the Dahlonega Nugget about First Night. Sharon Hall of The Nugget is the author.

With temperatures in the 90s it may seem a little strange to be thinking of New Year’s Eve, but that’s just what Dan Harding is doing. In fact, he’s been thinking about it since last New Year’s.

“This will be our second major fundraiser. Leadership Lumpkin put on a Spaghetti Supper for us. And we want this event to be just as great,” Harding said. Harding chairs the committee that is organizing a First Night New Year’s Eve celebration for the North Georgia Interfaith Ministries, Inc. (NGIM).

First Night is a family-friendly, no alcohol, include the kids New Year’s Eve event that celebrates a community’s local culture. It has been around for over 30 years. Started in 1975 in the city of Boston, by 1999 over 200 cities held their own First Night celebrations.

Many are used as a way to raise funds for worthy causes, and that is what NGIM is doing.
Money raised from NGIM’s First Night goes to support Jeremiah’s Place, the group’s effort to provide transitional housing for the homeless and those at risk of becoming homeless due to situations in their lives. It is open to single women and families— couples, single women with children, grandparents and legal guardians with minor children.

“There is an extensive vetting process. We want people who are not taking advantage of the system,” said Tom Slavicek, NGIM Executive Director. “Jeremiah’s Place is for people who are motivated to become independent.”

NGIM offers more than just a place to stay in order to help the homeless. “We’ll help them get a job, find permanent housing, teach them how to budget and other life skills that will help them avoid becoming homeless again,” he said.

Jeremiah’s Place is close to becoming a reality thanks to the community’s generosity, said NGIM President Jimmy Faulkner. The University of North Georgia donated former faculty housing, which has now become eight, 800 square foot units. Community contributions and money raised by a Leadership Lumpkin County group last spring during a spaghetti supper helped to pay for moving the houses onto two acres on Red Oak Flats Road donated by Hoyt Robinson. Donations also helped pay for a septic system, underground power lines, water lines, sidewalks and parking area.

“Refrigiwear provided 30- plus of their employees for a full day of painting … This is a tremendously generous act on behalf of Refrigiwear, who also donated $1,500 to buy materials to build a wheelchair ramp and steps and porches for the buildings,” Faulkner said.

Other volunteers also stepped up to bring the idea of a homeless shelter to fruition. “To date we have had great response from our volunteers who have worked tirelessly in the summer heat to get us to where we currently are. We praise God for all the support the Ministry has receives and continues to receive,” Faulkner said.

A different kind of volunteer is now needed. NGIF needs talented people to sign up for First Night festivities. Several musical groups and individuals have already signed up–hometown favorite Kurt Thomas; Gabe Russo, winner of last year’s Hoboken Frank Sinatra Idol contest; and the ever-popular Tom & Julie among them. But Harding is also looking for different kinds of entertainment–acts to delight youngsters and their parents.

“We are looking for family-friendly entertainment,” Harding said, “storytellers, comedians, magicians, puppeteers. We will have 16 main acts, four at each indoor venue.” St. Luke’s Catholic Church, Dahlonega Baptist and Dahlonega United Methodist churches will provide space for entertainers, plus the Holly Theater. There will also be happenings on the Hancock Park stage and around the Public Square.

Harding would also like to invite church youth groups and youth organizations—4- H, scouts and others, to participate. It’s an opportunity for them to earn money for their group, he said. “They can be vendors and sell hot chocolate and baked goods, or glow sticks, noise makers … any fun stuff associated with New Year’s Eve,” he said.

Sponsorships are also needed to make the evening—and the fundraiser—a success, and there are several levels for businesses large and small, or individuals.

Anyone interested in volunteering their time and talent, or helping to support NGIM’s Jeremiah’s Place, can contact Harding at 706-300-6337 or by email at dharding@windstream.net.

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