Habitat’s Dragon Boat Festival to be held

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Eight years ago, Gadsden-Etowah Habitat for Humanity introduced the community to dragon boat racing with its Dragon Boat Festival. This year the festival will be held on August 17. The opening ceremony will be at 8:45 a.m. and races begin at 9 a.m.

Dragon Boat racing originated in China over 2,300 years ago. A worldwide revival began about 30 years ago, and there are now millions of participants in over 60 countries. Dragon boats are 46-foot long boats adorned with decorative dragon heads and tails.

The money raised from the Dragon Boat Festival helps the local Habitat for Humanity fund its mission of building affordable houses for low-income families. The homes are sold to the families at no profit and with no interest. Potential owners are assigned a budget coach and are required to put in 300 hours of “sweat equity” by working on the construction of their home or the homes of others.

“The goal of the Habitat Dragon Boat Festival is to raise funds to continue the mission of building simple, decent and affordable houses in our community,” said Habitat co-chairman Steve Scharfenberg. “We want to raise awareness of the Habitat ministry, to inform families of the eligibility requirements, and to attract more volunteers while having a great time on the water.”

Habitat recently broke ground on its 55th house for Quenyana White and her sons David and Da’lon.

Last year, over 350 people participated in the races. Each Dragon Boat team consists of 20 paddlers, a  drummer and a steerer. Team registration ends today, August 2. For more information about registering a team, call 256-543-1898, e-mail info@gadsdenhabitat.com or visit www.habitatdragonboat.com.

Even for those not racing, there is plenty of fun to be had watching the races, and admission to the event is free. There will be kid’s activities, face painting, a drummer’s parade, vendors and free mini-dragon boat rides following the races.

“People love it – the thrill, the teamwork, the adrenaline, the interaction in the boat – everything,” said Suzanne Scharfenberg, Habitat co-chairwoman. “People who never thought of themselves as athletes can thrive in a dragon boat.”

“I love participating in the Habitat Dragon Boat Festival,” Janet Tarrance, the captain of Gadsden Parks and Recreation’s team NoccalulOARS. “It’s based on love and concern for others and gives families opportunities to own their own home. Each year, when I hear that another family has moved into their new house it makes my heart feel extremely happy. It’s one of my favorite events.”

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