MERCED — >A multitude of dancers, exercise enthusiasts and martial artists descended upon a section of 18th Street on Saturday as the first Merced Healthy Living Festival brought a festive atmosphere to the downtown area.
Eighteenth Street between Canal and K streets was closed to traffic for the event, which was geared toward exposing Merced residents to resources related to personal health and exercise in the community.
Highlights of the event included cheerleading, martial arts, Zumba dance, yoga for kids, massages, raffle prizes, health food demonstrations and live music.
Eileen Vidales, owner of Make It Happen and organizer of the festival, said she plans to hold the event annually as a way to spread information to the public about the health opportunities available locally to people of all ages.
Vidales said she wants to spread a "health movement" in Merced County that increases the level of consciousness about living a healthy existence.
Vidales' idea is gaining some traction. She started her exercise business, Make It Happen, two years ago with five students. Today, Vidales said, Make It Happen has more than 200 students and holds classes at seven sites in the region. Make It Happen also recently sponsored a Zumba dance event at Merced High, which raised $5,300 for Mercy Medical Center's diabetes foundation.
"I feel very happy that in two years we've been able to touch as many lives as we have," Vidales said.
Sid Rayford, owner of Rayford Shorin-Ryu Karate & Kobudo studio in Merced, said events such as the healthy living festival are important because of problems that exist nationwide with youth obesity.
Rayford's students performed an exhibition during the event. "We need to be more health conscious and let the public know about the options that are out here," Rayford said, adding that many of those health options are surprisingly affordable.
Groups and individuals participating in Saturday's event included Cal Fresh, All Dads Matter, Central California Dental Surgical Center, the Merced Multicultural Chamber of Commerce, Rayford Shorin-Ryu Karate & Kobudo, Curves, Doras' Fashion, Zumba with Shauna and Elsa, Yoga For All and DJ Jose Laguna.