REACH celebrates the holidays with traditional Christmas display downtown

Posted: Sunday, December 04, 2005

Lola and Jim Herr came to downtown Juneau Friday for breakfast, and lingered to look in a window at Third and Seward streets and play with the toys.

"They need to have more things like this to bring people downtown," Lola Herr said after pushing buttons that set a toy roller coaster in motion and sent a Santa Claus up and down a ladder against a Christmas tree.

Richard Fagundes, executive director of REACH, said he can hear the toys from his office on the other side of the wall when people outside push the buttons.

REACH doesn't sell toys or gadgets. It's a nonprofit organization that provides services that get developmentally disabled people involved in the community.

The display, which is turned on from about 9:30 a.m. to about 9:30 p.m. seven days a week, "is our way of giving something back to the community," Fagundes said.

"You'd be amazed at how many adults stand there in the morning with their coffee," said Anna Logan, the manager of the office at 213 Third St. While she decorates the side windows for the season, the corner display window is the work of Dan Elstad, REACH's facilities manager.

Elstad said he and his daughter, Kirsten, a freshman at Juneau-Douglas High School, have been working on it for months, including time spent planning and drawing up the blueprints.

It was the second one they set up, and they're already thinking out next year, he said. It would take "another 10 to 15 years at least" before he would call it a tradition, though.

Still, people find the concept traditional.

Fagundes said that after Elstad set up REACH's first interactive Christmas display, he heard the toys running for a while before he looked out to see three men in their 60s drinking coffee and having a good time pushing the buttons.

That's what it's there for, he said Friday, the day the wrapping on the corner window came down to unveil this year's display.

"People got a sneak preview at 12:30 a.m." Elstad said, noting his daughter's late-night drive to get it done.

Fagundes said everyone wanted it in place for the people that would come through downtown for Friday's Gallery Walk.

REACH moved into the building in January 2002, Fagundes said. Because it had once been Behrends Department Store, across Seward Street from Behrends Bank, it had large display windows, including the current interactive Christmas corner.

Dan Elstad said he was inspired by an interactive display window at the Frederick & Nelson Department Store in Seattle when he was a kid in the 1960s.

The toys in this year's display can be activated from buttons outside or by buttons inside Fagundes' office. The Santa Claus is new this year. The roller coaster is bigger - with two strings of plastic cars inching their way up the track next to each other before spiraling away in separate directions.

Kirsten Elstad said it was inspired by a double roller coaster at Universal Studios in Florida.

The electric train is back. This year it has a sort of tunnel, popping out from under the display. Standing outside, Dan Elstad said he has a door leading under the main part of the display to get in should there be a derailment, but it wouldn't be easy. Last year, there was only one major derailment, with the engine coming around to hit the cars no longer trailing it.

"If there had been people on board, they would all be dead," he said.

A smaller train this year is a miniature Boston trolley car that runs out in the open when people push the button. Dan Elstad said new arrows on the windows directing people to the buttons - two on the Third Street side and two on the Seward Street side - were his daughter's idea.

Also new to the display this year is a replica of an ice pond with miniature skaters constantly in motion.

A doll house is back, and a castle, donated by The Imagination Station, is new. Along with ornaments, model airplanes, lent by a local modeling club, hang along with ornaments from the ceiling.

Dan Elstad said he there will be cards thanking the neighbors, co-workers and friends who contributed to the window, but they won't be so big that they become advertisements.

Gone is the toy robot from last year's window.

Fagundes said it was loud in his office, even though people outside couldn't hear it. But he was ready to set up another robot this year, dressing the pair as Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus.

As it is, REACH, about a block from the Capitol and across the streets from an insurance company and a bank, has the corner's only animated Santa Claus.

The community has been good to REACH and the people it serves, Fagundes said.

REACH has developmentally disabled people working year-round throughout the community, said Kim Champney, support services director. "We also provide services in their own home." Services are offered for young and old alike, beginning infant learning services for children up to 3 who have been diagnosed with a developmental delay.

The lighthouse display in the corner window this summer and fall grew out of REACH's program, Logan said. But after last year, people have been asking what REACH would be doing this Christmas.

She said last year she talked to one man standing outside the display about how it reminded him of the Lionel train he had when he was a kid. She recalled a woman who brought her kids three times a week to visit the display.

"We want people to enjoy it," she said. "We're not trying to get you to buy anything."

Jim Herr, who saw the display not long after it was first turned on Friday, said he and his wife would return. "We're going to come back and bring the nieces and nephews," he said.

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