A celebration of Asian cultures and a boat race for a good cause will come together Saturday, April 28, at Augusta’s Lake Olmstead to kick off what officials hope will be an annual tradition.
Goodwill Industries of Middle Georgia and the Central Savannah River Area’s Good Boats Festival will start at 9 a.m., with the first race of a “dragon boat” – a boat complete with a dragon’s head, 20 rowers and a drummer to keep the pace – at 9:30. The event is free.
“We were looking for some sort of fundraiser, and we realized that if you like golf, you could play a golf charity event every week in this town,” said Cab Stitt, chairman of the festival committee and of the Goodwill Works Foundation.
“We thought it was getting old, and so were galas – you could do one every other week. We were looking for something a little bit different to serve the community as both an entertainment function and a fundraiser for Goodwill.”
The races will take place with two dragon boats – solid teak flat-water racing canoes more than 30 feet long – going for 250 meters. Chinese cultural acts will be featured on the entertainment stage from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Performances will include tai chi demonstrations, folk dances, music and other activities, celebrating the culture of Pacific Islanders, Chinese, Filipino, Korean, Thai and Vietnamese groups. A marketplace will be available, and vendors will serve Asian cuisine and American festival fare such as hamburgers and funnel cakes.
THE RACES have their origin in legend with an ancient historian, Chu Yuan, said Ray Rufo, president of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association, which is participating in the festival along with other Chinese organizations of the area, including the CSRA Chinese Organization and the Georgia Health Sciences University Chinese Students and Scholars Association.
“He was a historian and a very patriotic person, and he was upset with the way the government was going with corruption,” Rufo said. “He was trying to expose a lot of this and in the process, opponents spread some bad rumors about him. It got so bad, and the government was so corrupt, that he decided to take his own life by drowning.”
When people heard of this, they tried to rescue him to no avail – but raced to throw in joong, which is rice meal and meat wrapped in bamboo, to distract the fish from eating the man, Rufo said.
“And the delivery of these were done in dragon boats,” he said.
Several companies are racing, and some of the seats have been reserved for military service members. And in a special activity, breast cancer survivors will also participate and celebrate life and camaraderie.
“When I heard about the dragon boat races it was a great opportunity for me to get to know my patients in a different environment,” said Alice David, a medical oncologist. “Participants can spend time together in an outdoor event to emphasize the physical benefits of healing, and the unity of just being together.”
GOODWILL’S JOB Connection staff will be on hand to help attendees connect with job training and placement services, said Meredith Stiff, executive director of the Goodwill Works Foundation.
The proceeds from the Good Boats benefit the campaign to complete the organization’s Augusta Career Campus, a $12 million project that will result in a college to help train people for careers, including the campus’ flagship culinary school.
“The dragon boat race is another way to highlight the innovative programs at Goodwill,” Stiff said. “People are very excited about it and want to learn more.”
In a time of high unemployment, the festival will help demonstrate Goodwill’s resources, she said.
“I think people will be better able to understand Goodwill as not just somewhere to buy great bargains at retail stores,” Stiff said. “This will offer another opportunity for the community to see Goodwill putting people to work.”