Allan Stearns, 4, left, his twin brother, Artie, and their grandmother, Joyce Jalbert, all of Methuen, walk through “Candyland” during last year’s Kidsfest.

It may take a village to raise children, but it takes a city to entertain them: Laurie Chase Kidsfest returns next month bigger and better than ever.

Kidsfest, free and open to the public in Railroad Square, Moulton Way, Columbus Park and Wingate Street, begins at 10 a.m. Saturday, May 5, and concludes at 4 p.m. the same day.

The festival has been renamed Laurie Chase Kidsfest, in memory of the kind, community-oriented woman who, as Haverhill's downtown events coordinator, began the carnival-like celebration in the early '90s and continued it despite losing her job to budget cuts. Chase, who did everything she could to unite the city for the benefit of children, lost her battle with cancer on New Year's Day of last year.

But this year's involvement and preparation, coordinated by the Haverhill Downtown Association, city businesses, public groups and volunteers, would make her proud.

Kidsfest is funded by a small grant from the Haverhill Cultural Council, as well as donations that came from four major sponsors this year — Trinity EMS, Pentucket Bank, Pentucket Medical Associates and Merrimack Valley Hospital. To qualify as a major sponsor, companies must donate at least $2,500.

Merrimack Valley Hospital Communications Director Mary O'Neil said the hospital was thrilled to donate $5,000 to the Downtown Association for Kidsfest because one of the hospital's top priorities is to become a part of the community, to partner with civic groups to do good things for Haverhill.

"I've been bringing my kids to Kidsfest for years," said O'Neil, who is one of the judges for Kidsfest's Haverhill Idol competition. "It keeps growing and getting bigger and bigger each year. It's a positive thing we can support and that serves the community."

The Doll Parade kicks off Kidsfest at 10 a.m. Children are welcome to bring their favorite doll and stroller to walk the parade route, which follows Railroad Square and Wingate Street. One lucky child will receive an American Girl doll.

Dr. Carolyn Roy-Bornstein, a pediatrician at Merrimack Medical Center, will be at the "Doll Clinic" table at the finishing point handing out Band-Aids, hats and sunblock to those finishing the parade.

"It's a perfect fit for the hospital because we are opening a small pediatrics unit within the next few weeks," O'Neil said.

Master Catherine Chang, of Chang's Tae Kwon Do America in Bradford, is co-chairing Kidsfest for the first time. She said small, personal donations are just as important as the larger corporate checks, and that everyone can be part of the process of creating a wonderful Kidsfest.

"We are preparing for thousands (on that day)," Chang said. "We have between 10 and 20 volunteers but can absolutely use more. We especially encourage teens, young adults and seniors to take part in the festivities."

"The community is doing this all together. It's nice that we are self-supporting and don't have to depend on outside sources," Chang continued. "Everything is falling into place. Everyone is wonderful and committed and has a lot of fun when they do it. People have really come out and offered to do what they can to pull this all together for the kids."

Earlier this month, Haverhill City Council voted to waive various fees for Kidsfest, saving the event a couple of thousand dollars. The Veterans of Foreign Wars donated costumes used in the annual Santa Parade, and EZ-Way Cleaners volunteered to clean the costumes at no cost.

There is something for everyone at Kidsfest and it is not too late to volunteer. If you would like more information or wish to volunteer, contact Warren Gerety at 978-556-5453, Janet Donovan at 978-372-8888 or Catherine Chang at 978-556-1616.

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