Thousands gathered Sunday at Thomas Road Baptist Church for its annual Celebrate America festivities.

Even in the sweltering end of June weather, the parking lot at the church began filling up at about 5 p.m. Many attendees say the event has become part of their annual summer traditions.

Jade Williams, a Rustburg resident, came with her three children, her fiancé, his sister and his mother Sunday.

“We look forward to this event just as much as Christmas,” she said. “A time where family and friends come together and show pride for their country.”

Williams said she has a lot of family in the military who have fought to protect this country and to be able to celebrate freely.

Celebrate America has been a tradition for not only Thomas Road Baptist Church, but the Lynchburg region since the 1990s and draws thousands of people each year.

The event was held at Liberty University for nine years, until construction on the new stadium began in 2010. Celebrate America then moved to the adjacent church campus, where it has been held for seven years. Only once since Celebrate America began has it been skipped — directly after the damaging wind storm in 2012 that left much of the city and surrounding counties without power.

Celebrate America grows each year, TRBC Communications Director Kris Richards said. Planning for the event begins in November, and each year some 200 staff members and volunteers come together to make the magic happen come summer.

The free event featured Slidezilla, a four-story-tall water slide; local musicians such as The Nelons and Debbie Holmes; about 30 local food vendors; mechanical bull riding; a rock wall; inflatable moonwalks; an obstacle course and, as always, a massive fireworks display at the end of the evening.

Richard said though many come to enjoy the festivities, hundreds more park at various sites along Wards and Candlers Mountain roads to watch the fireworks.

Due to the size of the event, the church holds just one service in the morning so staff and volunteers can begin setting up.

Richards said she enjoys seeing families and people of all ages hanging out on the campus lawn.

“I think it’s something we get excited to do,” she said. “We love being a part of this community. We work and live here, we’re a part of Lynchburg and we love having people come hang out on the campus.”

Barbara McBride, of Madison Heights, said there is nothing like being together with friends and family at Celebrate America.

“As a grandmother I love to see the look on the faces of my grandchildren,” she said. “They love the games, refreshments and of course the fireworks at the end. My husband and I look forward to it every year.”

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Rachael Smith covers local businesses and nonprofits. Reach her at (434) 385-5482.

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Born and raised in Lynchburg, I cover local businesses and nonprofits. Email me at: rsmith@newsadvance.com

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