Cassandra Sweet: She’s Got it Planned
Looking for the chair of the Essex Elementary School Autumn Harvest Fair? Or the chair of the John Winthrop Middle School Parent’s Council? The vice president of the Essex Elementary School PTO? A member of the Essex Board of Education? A PTO volunteer who has worked on events from appreciation lunches for Region 4 staff to moving-up bags for Essex Elementary students going on to middle school?
Then you are looking for Cassandra Sweet.
Cassandra is serving first term on the Essex Board of Education. “I got approached; I was so involved that I was asked if I would be a voice on the board,” she says.
This year she is once again in charge of organizing the Autumn Harvest Fair at Essex Elementary on Sunday, Oct. 2 from noon to 3 p.m. It is the Essex Elementary PTO’s largest fundraiser of the year and supports a variety of PTO programs.
Cassandra started as a volunteer at the Autumn Harvest Fair when her daughter was in kindergarten. She began chairing the event when her daughter was in second grade. Now her daughter is a high school freshman.
She thought briefly of stopping when her daughter was in her final year at Essex Elementary so she could walk around and enjoy the fair with her but her children urged her to keep going, especially since she had a son entering kindergarten. That son is now in third grade.
Cassandra admits she sometimes thinks she could do the job in her sleep. Still, it would be a wakeful sleep because there is much to do. She starts in August sending letters for contributions to local businesses. The contributions cover the costs of the fair, including things like bounce houses, so the money earned can go to the PTO rather than to expenses.
This is a special year for the Harvest Fair because it is resuming after a two-year COVID hiatus.
“People are excited to have it back,” Cassandra says. “It kicks off the school year in a fun way.”
Making the event a success takes volunteers, some 75 in all. Being a volunteer does not necessarily mean working at the event.
“Volunteering includes not only those who show up and help with running the actual day of but it also includes those who are needed to donate items, help set up, help take down, and more,” Cassandra explains.
The unexpected is expected at an event like an elementary school fair. The craft booth is always a challenge because there have to be enough supplies to last for the entire three hours of the fair. One year, the booth ran out of the small water-filled pellets that were being used to make stress balls. Instead, with a funnel, balloons were filled with flour to create the malleable sensation necessary for the stress balls.
Then there was the year the cookie decorating booth ran out of candies to stick in the icing atop the cookies. After that, there was a limit on how many decorations each cookie could have.
This year there will not be a cookie decorating booth because organizers want to minimize things that are handled by too many people. Instead, there will be cupcakes, not to decorate, but to purchase and eat.
“I got these cupcakes for my kids’ lunches, and they tasted so good,” Cassandra says.
Still, the most popular activity, the cake walk, remains. It works like musical chairs. Children walk around a circle of numbers until the music stops. Then the volunteer working at the booth pulls a number out of a pumpkin-shaped bucket. The child standing on the winning number gets to pick out a cake.
Rain does not stop the Autumn Harvest Fair. The fair moves inside to Essex Elementary. “The activities are spread out in different places. It’s not like outside on the school grounds, but it goes on rain or shine,” Cassandra says.
When Cassandra grew up in East Haddam, the fair she looked forward to was the Hamburg Fair in Lyme. She is an alumna of Nathan Hale-Ray High School, as is her husband David Sweet, who was her high school beau.
“We’ve been together for 25 years,” she says. The couple have four children in all.
Cassandra graduated from the University of Rhode Island, with a major in textile design and merchandising.
When she is not a PTO mom, Cassandra describes herself as a full-on sports mom following her children’s activities.
“That’s what happens after 2 o’clock,” she says.
She first learned about the Essex Elementary Autumn Harvest Fair when her then young daughter and oldest son, 4 and 2 years old at the time, were taken to the event. It was a successful afternoon. Her daughter won a cake at the cake walk.
Cassandra suspects this will not be the last year she heads up the school fair. She still has a son at Essex Elementary and even after he moves on to middle school, there may be family requests to keep going. Cassandra’s youngest son is still in pre-school.
The Autumn Harvest Fall Fair is on Sunday, Oct. 2 from noon to 3 p.m. at Essex Elementary School, 108 Main Street, Centerbrook. Rain or shine.