Dec 27 2009

Mariah gives neglected kids a big gift in Aspen

< > When she wasn't dodging paparazzi while visiting Aspen on Monday, singer Mariah Carey was brightening the day for 35 abused and neglected kids.

Carey rented the city-owned Aspen Recreation Center for four hours Monday afternoon to throw a party that the invited youth probably won't forget.

"This is an opportunity they haven't had before," said Judé Liguori-Oliver, child protection services administrator for the city and county of Denver. "Many of these kids haven't been out of Denver. A lot of them haven't been in the mountains."

The kids scurried up the recreation center's climbing wall, swam in the pool and floated on the Lazy River, went ice skating, and were entertained by jugglers, magicians and storytellers, some of whom were dressed as elves. All of the kids were between ages 9 and 12. The child protection services department is working to get the children in safe and permanent homes — with their families whenever practical.

After playing at the ARC, the kids got a visit from Santa Claus, who was accompanied by Carey and her husband, Nick Cannon. The trio pulled up in a sleigh on wheels pulled by reindeer.

The children definitely knew their celebrity host. "Oh absolutely. As soon as she got off the sleigh they started screaming, 'Mariah, Mariah, Mariah," Liguori-Oliver said.

A specially decorated winter scene was created at the ARC where each child got to individually visit with Santa, flanked by Carey and Cannon. A professional photographer snapped their pictures, which each child will receive. On the bus ride home, the 35 kids and 15 staff members watched Christmas movies purchased by Carey. The 16-hour day was well worth it.

"It was just all about the kids," Liguori-Oliver said. "We are very grateful. Mariah is a celebrity that gives back."

Carey couldn't be immediately reached for comment Tuesday through her publicist. She has a history of throwing parties in Aspen for less fortunate kids. She has hosted children selected by Liguori-Oliver for three years. The previous two winters they congregated at Bumps Restaurant at Buttermilk and went tubing in a special area created by the Aspen Skiing Co. Some locals said Carey has been hosting parties for the kids for about 10 years.

Carey is a longtime Aspen visitor, particularly around the holidays. She is usually tracked by celebrity photographers. Numerous online gossip sites tend to focus on what she's wearing. There is rarely mention of her efforts to help underprivileged kids, and she didn't visibly seek publicity for this year's party. Word spread this year because it involved a public facility. Patrons were curious about why it was closed.

The recreation center was closed to the public between noon and 4 p.m., city recreation director Tim Anderson said Tuesday. Carey rented the facility for ,,000 per hour.

A man who helped Carey organize the party contacted the city about one week ago with an inquiry. Typically, the city wants to give ARC patrons more notice when there is a closure but Anderson and his staff felt the cause warranted the temporary inconvenience.

"It was a good thing. We felt a celebrity doing something for kids was a good thing," he said.

City taxpayers benefited as well. The ARC's total revenues for Monday were about twice as much as on Dec. 21 last year, according to Anderson.

The community recreation center is available for rent on a case-by-case basis. There is no set fee, but Anderson said the rent is higher in the evening, when the facility draws more customers. Carey's party worked well because it was in the afternoon, which isn't quite as busy, Anderson said. Anderson and Carey's representatives negotiated a rent deemed fair to both sides.

"This was for some less fortunate kids so we held the price down a little bit," Anderson said.

Scott Condon, The Aspen Times

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