FORT KENT, Maine — It may still be years away, but organizers behind the 2014 World Acadian Congress are reminding those wanting to get involved it’s not too early to start.
A big part of those plans are the anticipated 120 family reunions taking place during the congress set for Aug. 8-14 throughout the St. John Valley, northwestern New Brunswick and the Temiscouata region of Quebec, known collectively as “Acadia of the Lands and Forests.”
Previous World Acadian Congresses in Louisiana and Canada have attracted upwards of 50,000 people.
“Quite frankly, when we talk about 50,000 coming to the congress it’s the family reunions which serve as the hook to bring people into the area,” said Jason Parent, World Acadian Congress Maine international president and international family reunion task force chair. “If you look at what Madawaska brings in each year and multiply that by 120, you will have an idea of how many people we are talking about.”
Madawaska holds a single family reunion each year in conjunction with its annual Acadian Festival, drawing hundreds of members of the same extended family. Every family throughout Acadia of the Lands and Forests is invited to organize a reunion sanctioned by the 2014 World Acadian Congress, Parent said.
To help people get started on the official application process, congress organizers are holding informational meetings this month in Fort Kent on Oct. 20 at the town office and a second meeting at the Van Buren town office on Oct. 25. Both meetings start at 6 p.m.
“These meetings are designed to help inform people what goes into hosting a family reunion,” Parent said. “We also want to help people with the formal application process.”
The first open round of applications for families, family associations, communities and others interested in hosting reunions in 2014 continues through Nov. 1, Parent said.
The family reunion committee, Parent said, will work to bring together any competing applicants for the same last name to encourage collaboration and the submission of a single proposal.
At the end of the first round application period, Parent’s committee will come together to make formal recommendations to the international organizing committee on the locations of family reunions based on proposals submitted.
The announcement of the first venues selected to host family reunions will be made early in 2012 at the same time as the second round of applications is launched.
While any family is free to host a reunion at any time, Parent stressed reunions sanctioned and approved by the WAC will receive $500 toward the event’s organization and will be included on all upcoming congress publicity materials and on the website.
At the same time, all reunions must be open to anyone with those familial roots.
“Certainly different clans within families will more than likely [host] their own mini-reunions during the congress,” Parent said. “But there will be only one, official family reunion site for each approved family.”
By hosting a family reunion as part of the World Acadian Congress, Parent said, much of the work is done for the family.
“The families don’t have to feel like they have to put on the entire party,” he said. “We are hoping people look at all the activities going on during the congress and plan their reunions around those [and] add those activities to their own reunion calendar of events.”
The World Acadian Congress will fold in annual events like the Acadian Festival, the Muskie Derby, the Ploye Festival and area summer festivals into the three weeks that will include planned international cultural, historical, athletic and academic events.
“So far the application process has gone extremely well,” Parent said. “In Maine we’ve received 25 solid [reunion] applications and those reunions will have a definite economic benefit on the host communities.”
The reunions and other congress events promise to bring a great deal of attention to the region, Parent said, with television crews from French-speaking Canada already indicating interest in national broadcast coverage.
In addition, Parent said his committee is bringing in one of the organizers behind the family reunions of the 2009 World Acadian Congress held in New Brunswick for a work session in French in Edmundston on Nov. 10 and a second session in English in Madawaska on Nov. 11.
“We also have an 18-page guide book to help people in reunion planning,” he added.
Applications for parties interested in hosting a family reunion in Acadia of the Lands and Forests in 2014 are currently available online at the website for the fifth World Acadian Congress at http://cma2014.org. Paper applications can be picked up in person in Maine at all Norstate Credit Union locations.