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Stuart welcomes West Indies
Inaugural Caribbean Carnival takes over Memorial Park
By Kelly Tyko staff writer

STUART - For a few hours Saturday, Esther Delancer felt like she was back in her native Dominican Republic.

After 30 years in the United States, Delancer had a chance to eat jerk chicken and listen to island tunes at the inaugural Caribbean Carnival at Memorial Park in downtown Stuart.

"This is great. It brings out more diversity," said Delancer, who moved to Port St. Lucie two months ago. "I didn't know there were so many Caribbean people in this area."

The carnival, presented by Willie Gary's law firm, featured a 30-booth arts and crafts section, Bahamian and Jamaican food and Caribbean drinks, and an extensive children's area.

Thousands are estimated to have attended the one-day event, with proceeds going to the American Cancer Society, event organizer Maria Sperando said.

Sperando, an attorney with Gary's firm and a longtime contributor to the cancer society's annual Relay for Life, said the event was put together in a few days.

"We've gotten a tremendous response," said Sperando, a breast cancer survivor.

Those wanting to visit the real Caribbean had the opportunity to learn how. Travel agency Fun Tours handed out cruise brochures and information about the islands.

But the carnival was also a chance to be part of the community, said Kathy Padova, president of the agency that has been in downtown Stuart for 28 years.

"This is fun. I've seen people that I haven't seen in 20 years," Padova said. "It's a real local event."

And for bassist Leslie Baptiste, it was a reminder of the Virgin Islands.

"It's like a Caribbean feeling to see people come together," said Baptiste, originally from St. Thomas, whose reggae bands, Reign and Real Thing, performed at the event. "I think it is for a good cause and shows the community has much love."

Stuart resident Charles A. Powell agreed.

"People are enjoying themselves. They're smiling, laughing and talking to each other," Powell said. "We should do more of these."