Celebrate Your Family's Special Gifts at the Holidays and All Year


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Whenever my colleagues would share holiday stories about their families, one was always quick with a smile and a quip: "Every family is different."

Families come in many shapes, sizes, colors and creeds. There is no one picture of a "typical family," such as the iconic Norman Rockwell image of the family gathered around the Thanksgiving table. Snapshots of families include those with adopted or international children, grandparents raising grandkids, combined families from previous marriages and families nurturing children with special needs.

During the holidays, especially, families who may be too busy all year to consider what makes their family unique often stop to share blessings, stories, traditions or cultural values. The holiday season is an ideal time to communicate to children what it means to be a part of your family.

Learn about cultures together

For Sharon Degnan of Cary, thinking about multiculturalism is a no-brainer. Her adopted 4-year-old daughter, Emily, is Greek/Italian/African, and her adopted 1-year-old son, Tommy, is French/Native American/African. She and her husband are Lithuanian/Scotch-Irish/German.

"As a family, we want our children to know that we are all the same on the inside and also want them to be proud of who and what they are," Degnan says.

This may be the first holiday season Emily is aware of her family members' differences. "She is becoming more aware of skin colors, hair texture and seeing beauty in all its forms," Degnan says. She and her husband plan to seek out cultural activities that teach Emily and Tommy about their heritage as they get older.

Anne Heath, a counselor and licensed clinical social worker, says older adopted children may remember and want to honor certain traditions. "Accept and share memories together," Heath says. "Ask them what they liked about old traditions and what they would like to see the family do together along those lines."

Be flexible as the family grows and changes

Children experience their world differently as they grow up. As their understanding of cultures and traditions expands, their family's traditions can change, too. Heath works with families who sometimes must change to meet new needs or situations.

"As a family, you can talk about your traditions. I have found that some traditions are practiced even after the family has forgotten why," Heath says. "If the family matriarch has died, or the children are older, or extended family is far away, remember to be flexible and open to new ideas. You can always celebrate a new tradition."

Recognize and adapt to limitations

Linda Alves of Clayton welcomed new traditions for her family. She grew up with five siblings and married a man who had four. Since she has three children and six grandchildren, and is raising three of her grandchildren in her home, she realized one

Christmas when the presents were nearly stacked up to the ceiling that something had to change. With grandchildren and her youngest child still at home, money was tight and the economy wasn't being kind to extended family members, either.

"We are so fortunate — the kids see their mothers and grandparents on a daily basis," Alves says. "But part of what makes us a strong family is moving through the obstacles life places in our way."

She believes having her grandchildren living at home is a blessing. Having already raised children once before, Alves says part of this blessing is becoming wiser the second time around, letting her children and grandchildren experience natural consequences for their behavior instead of fighting with them.

Holidays, too, have been simplified. "Now, every year, people [in my extended family] call me and ask, 'Are we doing new or used gifts this year?'" Alves says. The family chooses a fixed amount and each member brings one gift to trade in a "white elephant" exchange.

Live values through actions

One way to focus on values with extended family during the holidays is to limit gift-giving to children ages 10 and younger, Heath says. For older children, she suggests making a donation in their name to the charity of their choice, like the Food Bank, Salvation Army or American Red Cross.

If families want more hands-on experience so children understand the importance of helping others, nonprofits such as the Brown Bag Ministry enable families to make sandwiches to distribute to the homeless in Moore Square in Raleigh, Heath says. Another nonprofit, the Wake Interfaith Hospitality Network, provides opportunities for parents to help clients with their resumes, while children play with and entertain the clients' children.

Use faith and shared moments to foster unity

Degnan has incorporated service and charitable work into her family's holidays

for years. Before she and her husband adopted Emily and Tommy, they were foster parents and included their foster children in activities that celebrated their faith. At the Catholic church they attend, a "Jesse Tree" holds ornaments with wish list items for families who cannot afford gifts during the holidays. Degnan and her family shop for the items together and ask for the children's input on which gifts to choose.

"One of the things that defines us as a family is our faith," Degnan says. "During the year, we celebrate the children's baptism days and at the holidays we go to Mass as a family on Christmas Eve."

But Degnan doesn't limit bonding to the holidays. As her children grow out of the baby stage she looks for opportunities to appreciate small moments together throughout the year. They recently started a family game night and, once Degnan gets a bike, they will start riding together.

"Anything we can do to promote togetherness and bonding is great," she says. "I just started doing 'girl things' with Emily, like going to get her hair done or getting manicures and pedicures every now and then," Degnan says. "And in the spring, she works in the garden with my husband."

Taking time to appreciate each other during those small moments helps family members understand what it means to be part of the family.

Include extended family

Because of Degnan's past experiences as a foster parent, she makes sure her children get together with her former foster children and their families for special events throughout the year, such as birthdays, visits to the pumpkin patch or Easter egg hunts. "Families come in all shapes and sizes, and we want to share with our children that acceptance," she says.

For Christina Fulcher of Henderson, her extended family and their holiday meals are important for building family identity. But helping her 3-year-old autistic daughter, Anna, understand the importance of family connections and navigate the family's sprawling meals has presented a challenge.

"Coming together often includes many family members who travel with the military as well as old and young," Fulcher says. "But anytime you take a child with autism to a large group, he or she may not cooperate very well."

Fulcher is learning techniques to prepare Anna for the meals. "We'll talk weeks ahead of time about who she'll see and show her pictures ahead of time, reminding her of the last event when she saw them," Fulcher says. "We'll use objects to jog her memory, like saying, 'He's the one who collects coins, and he gave you that silver dollar you love so much.'"

She also weaves Anna into the family but gives her space. The group sets up tables inside and outside, and when Anna is overwhelmed or tired of family bonding, she has a quiet spot to relax.

Spirit of gratitude is key

All families echo the same sentiment, and Heath says it best: "However you celebrate, use the time together as a time of gratitude," she says, adding that whatever you decide defines you as a family is probably OK with the children. "If you present it to them in a fun way, they will accept it," she says.  n

Anne Woodman is a Morrisville-based freelance writer and mother of two.

10 ways adoptive families can introduce culture to their children

November is National Adoption Awareness Month, and some families who have adopted children internationally want to find ways to incorporate their children's culture into the holiday season. One organization, Cultural Care Au Pair, aims to help families share the child's native country's customs, language and culture by providing a caregiver who shares the same home country or native language.

Susan Robinson, vice president of communications for Cultural Care Au Pair, offers a few tips to help introduce culture to adopted children.

*     Introduce your child to a person who shares his or her birth country. Encourage your child to ask questions and learn as much as he or she can.

*     Learn the language. Teach your child common words and phrases used in his or her birth country.

*     Find a tradition from your child's birth culture that you can incorporate into your lives on a regular basis.

*     Search for a traditional recipe from your child's birth country. Plan an

authentic menu, shop for the ingredients, and prepare and enjoy the meal together.

*     Attend a cultural celebration from your child's birth country.

*     Construct a traditional craft from your child's birth country and talk together about its historical and cultural meaning.

*     Look at a world map with your child and locate the country where your child was born. Discuss how it differs from the U.S. in terms of geography, size, economic stability and climate.

*     Read a folk tale or children's story from your child's birth country. Discuss how your child is different from characters in the book and what similarities they share.

*     Teach your child a game that is typically played in his or her birth country.

*      Listen to music from your child's birth country.

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More information

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Cost: Varies depending on camp week

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View map »


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Where:
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Summer Garden Camps at the JCRA invite your child to investigate nature during half or full day camps.  Campers tend to the garden, harvest vegetables, catch insects, and create crafts from the...

Cost: Varies depending on camp week

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Amongst the ancient oak trees is the heart of Raleigh. We'll help you see the forest for the trees and all its magic splendor. Tourist, local, or new to town, this is a lively small group activity...

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Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: Kelly
Website »

More information

Kindermusik is a research-based early childhood curriculum that includes 45-minute classroom lessons with materials and resources that encourages parental involvement . Research has linked...

Cost: $70/month

Where:
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Telephone: 191-990-25432
Contact Name: Leigh Hamm
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USNWC
5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy
Charlotte, NC  28214
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Sponsor: USNWC
Telephone: 704-391-3900
Website »

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Spanish Alive is providing Family Spanish classes starting in January! Join us to learn Spanish as an entire family in an immersive, fun environment. Our teachers are trained Spanish educators and...

Cost: $75-$216

Where:
Spanish Alive
156 E. Chatham St
Cary, NC
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Short class advertising for local class   I am a mom and retired CPA who is passionate about teaching teens about the high cost of their choices. I teach a fun, interactive "Game of Life meets...

Cost: $225

Where:
Hope Community Church- Apex
2080 E Williams Street
Apex, NC  27539
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Sponsor: Beyond Personal Finance
Contact Name: Charla McKinley
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I am a mom and retired CPA who is passionate about teaching teens about the high cost of their choices. I teach a fun, interactive "Game of Life meets Dave Ramsey" class that has teens experience...

Cost: $225

Where:
Hope Community Church- Apex
2080 E Williams Street
Apex, NC  27539
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Sponsor: Beyond Personal Finance
Contact Name: Charla McKinley
Website »

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Short class advertising for local class   I am a mom and retired CPA who is passionate about teaching teens about the high cost of their choices. I teach a fun, interactive "Game of Life meets...

Cost: $225

Where:
Hope Community Church- Apex
2080 E Williams Street
Apex, NC  27539
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Sponsor: Beyond Personal Finance
Contact Name: Charla McKinley
Website »

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Azevedo Family Psychology and Kym Azevedo will host an Art for Life group each Thursday from 5:30-6:30PM beginning January 16 and running through March 26. This group is completely free, kid...

Cost: FREE

Where:
1903 N. Harrison Ave
Suite 201
Cary, NC  27513
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Sponsor: Azevedo Family Psychology
Telephone: 919-624-9568
Contact Name: Kym Azevedo
Website »

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Explore astronomy, biology, architectural and engineering principles, technology and so much more through our hands-on, play-based activities. Spend an evening with your preschooler, experiencing...

Cost: free

Where:
Saint Raphael Preschool
5801 Falls of Neuse Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27609
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Sponsor: Saint Rapahel Preschool
Telephone: 919-865-5725
Contact Name: Katie Mistele
Website »

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The goal of the How To Talk So Kids Will Listen Group workshop is to help you communicate more effectively with children.   In each session of the workshop you'll be introduced to an...

Cost: $12.95 materials fee

Where:
Wildflower School at Belle Vie Farm
3100 Damascus Church Road
Chapel Hill, NC  27516
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Sponsor: Wildflower School at Belle Vie Farm
Telephone: 919-260-6859
Contact Name: Shelley Welch
Website »

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Hounded by Death, the character of Everybody desperately seeks out everyone and everything they know in hope of finding something meaningful to take to the grave. These 90 minutes of theatrical...

Cost: Ticket prices start at $15

Where:
PlayMakers' Repertory Company
120 Country Club Rd
Chapel Hill, NC  27599
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Telephone: 919-962-7529

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Forget tourist-filled museums, make your own memories with a photo scavenger hunt tour in Raleigh! On a Let’s Roam scavenger hunt, you and your team will work together to wander throughout...

Cost: $11

Where:
500 S Salisbury St
raleigh, NC  27601
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Sponsor: Let's Roam
Website »

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Amongst the ancient oak trees is the heart of Raleigh. We'll help you see the forest for the trees and all its magic splendor. Tourist, local, or new to town, this is a lively small group activity...

Cost: $11

Where:
Downtown
500 S Salisbury St
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Sponsor: Let's Roam
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: Kelly
Website »

More information

Summer Garden Camps at the JCRA invite your child to investigate nature during half or full day camps.  Campers tend to the garden, harvest vegetables, catch insects, and create crafts from the...

Cost: Varies depending on camp week

Where:
JC Raulston Arboretum
4415 Beryl Rd
Raleigh, NC  27606
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Sponsor: JC Raulston Arboretum
Telephone: (919) 513-7011
Contact Name: Elizabeth Overcash
Website »

More information

Kindermusik is a research-based early childhood curriculum that includes 45-minute classroom lessons with materials and resources that encourages parental involvement . Research has linked...

Cost: $70/month

Where:
Hope Community Building
2080 E Williams St
Hope Community Building, Fuquay Varina Room
Apex/Holly Springs, NC  27539
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Telephone: 191-990-25432
Contact Name: Leigh Hamm
Website »

More information

Skate on an ice trail or free skate on 17,000 sq. ft of ice. Located in the Upper Pond of the Whitewater Center, the skating environment features three distinct programming areas and an on-ice...

Cost: 20

Where:
USNWC
5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy
Charlotte, NC  28214
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Sponsor: USNWC
Telephone: 704-391-3900
Website »

More information

Lights is a half-mile walking trail that leads viewers through a series of immersive light installations featuring  honeycombs, vines, crystals, and other natural features integrated into the...

Cost: Free

Where:
USNWC
5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy
Charlotte, NC  28214
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Sponsor: USNWC
Telephone: 704-391-3900
Website »

More information

Sign up for a Raleigh scavenger hunt and put on your best Nick Cage impression as you seek out the national treasures hidden in Raleigh. Via an app, be guided through the cultural, historical,...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
Website »

More information

Join us for Family Trivia Night!  Test your knowledge of pop culture, books, music and more. Pizza and drinks provided.  Call or stop by to register: 919-245-2532. Best for kids ages 8 and up...

Cost: Free

Where:
Orange County Main Library
137 W Margaret Ln
Hillsborough, NC  27278
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Sponsor: Orange County Public Library
Telephone: 919-245-2539
Contact Name: Libbie Hough
Website »

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Art Walk featuring local galleries and artist studios in historic downtown Hillsborough on the Last Friday of every month (no Art Walk in December).

Cost: FREE

Where:
Downtown Hillsborough (multiple locations)
102 N. Churton St.
Hillsborough, NC  27278
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Sponsor: Hillsborough Arts Council
Telephone: 919-643-2500
Contact Name: Torey Mishoe
Website »

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Kids! Are you sick of the Winter? Enjoy a Summer's night at Peach Road Center. Enjoy a Summer-like evening with us. Get into the luau spirit and play summer games!  

Cost: Free

Where:
Peach Road Community Center
911 Ileagnes Rd
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Sponsor: City or Raleigh Parks, Recreation & Cultural Resources
Telephone: 919-807-8545
Contact Name: Christy Famolare

More information

Hounded by Death, the character of Everybody desperately seeks out everyone and everything they know in hope of finding something meaningful to take to the grave. These 90 minutes of theatrical...

Cost: Ticket prices start at $15

Where:
PlayMakers' Repertory Company
120 Country Club Rd
Chapel Hill, NC  27599
View map »


Telephone: 919-962-7529

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Forget tourist-filled museums, make your own memories with a photo scavenger hunt tour in Raleigh! On a Let’s Roam scavenger hunt, you and your team will work together to wander throughout...

Cost: $11

Where:
500 S Salisbury St
raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: Let's Roam
Website »

More information

Join our bird enthusiast, Vernon, for an easy walk while looking and listening for our feathered friends. Discover different types of birds and their habitats.​ No preregistration required. Meet...

Cost: FREE

Where:
Lake Crabtree County Park
1400 Aviation Pkwy.
Morrisville, NC  27560
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Sponsor: Lake Crabtree County Park
Telephone: 919-460-3355
Contact Name: Carol Cunningham
Website »

More information

How did people predict the weather before The Weather Channel, and can animals really help? Come to the Finley Center to put our colonial weather proverbs to the test and make a pop-up woodchuck...

Cost: For all ages; FREE. Registration is not required

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Amongst the ancient oak trees is the heart of Raleigh. We'll help you see the forest for the trees and all its magic splendor. Tourist, local, or new to town, this is a lively small group activity...

Cost: $11

Where:
Downtown
500 S Salisbury St
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: Let's Roam
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: Kelly
Website »

More information

Summer Garden Camps at the JCRA invite your child to investigate nature during half or full day camps.  Campers tend to the garden, harvest vegetables, catch insects, and create crafts from the...

Cost: Varies depending on camp week

Where:
JC Raulston Arboretum
4415 Beryl Rd
Raleigh, NC  27606
View map »


Sponsor: JC Raulston Arboretum
Telephone: (919) 513-7011
Contact Name: Elizabeth Overcash
Website »

More information

Kindermusik is a research-based early childhood curriculum that includes 45-minute classroom lessons with materials and resources that encourages parental involvement . Research has linked...

Cost: $70/month

Where:
Hope Community Building
2080 E Williams St
Hope Community Building, Fuquay Varina Room
Apex/Holly Springs, NC  27539
View map »


Telephone: 191-990-25432
Contact Name: Leigh Hamm
Website »

More information

Join us to meet the educators, see the farm and learn more about our Preschool for 3-5 year olds and Camps for 4-10 year olds. We'll have a campfire for some warmth but please come dressed for the...

Cost: 0

Where:
Longleaf Forest School
4826 Mt. Moriah Road
Durhan, NC  27707
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Sponsor: Longleaf Forest School
Contact Name: Tara Lawson
Website »

More information

Chinese New Year Festival, also Lunar New Year Festival. Largest public event in the Triangle. MAIN STAGE has vocal and orchestral music, folk dance, Lion and Dragon dances, martial arts, and comic...

Cost: $10 entry at door, military and senior discounts, kids<6 free

Where:
Dorton Arena, NC State Fairgrounds
1025 Blue Ridge Road
Enter Gate 1,2,4,5,11
Raleigh, NC  27607
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Sponsor: NC Triangle Area Chinese American Society
Contact Name: Michael, Shin
Website »

More information

Chinese New Year Festival or Lunar New Year Festival, largest public event in the Triangle. MAIN STAGE with musical and dance performances, Lion Dance Dragon Dance, martial arts, comic skits emceed...

Cost: $10 entry at door, military and senior discounts, kids<6 free

Where:
Dorton Arena, NC State Fairgrounds
1025 Blue Ridge Road
Enter Gate 1,2,4,5,11
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »


Sponsor: NC Triangle Area Chinese American Society
Contact Name: Michael, Shin
Website »

More information

Skate on an ice trail or free skate on 17,000 sq. ft of ice. Located in the Upper Pond of the Whitewater Center, the skating environment features three distinct programming areas and an on-ice...

Cost: 20

Where:
USNWC
5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy
Charlotte, NC  28214
View map »


Sponsor: USNWC
Telephone: 704-391-3900
Website »

More information

Lights is a half-mile walking trail that leads viewers through a series of immersive light installations featuring  honeycombs, vines, crystals, and other natural features integrated into the...

Cost: Free

Where:
USNWC
5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy
Charlotte, NC  28214
View map »


Sponsor: USNWC
Telephone: 704-391-3900
Website »

More information

Sign up for a Raleigh scavenger hunt and put on your best Nick Cage impression as you seek out the national treasures hidden in Raleigh. Via an app, be guided through the cultural, historical,...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
Website »

More information

Spanish Alive is providing Family Spanish classes starting in January! Join us to learn Spanish as an entire family in an immersive, fun environment. Our teachers are trained Spanish educators and...

Cost: $75-$216

Where:
Spanish Alive
156 E. Chatham St
Cary, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Did you know that Disney, Netflix, Google and NASA, just to name a few, are all using Python? Python can be used for creating web applications, automation, programming robots and artificial...

Cost: Free: registration required

Where:
, NC


Website »

More information

FEB. 1, 2020 | 1 – 4 P.M. | BLUE JAY POINT COUNTY PARK Spend a winter afternoon getting to know Blue Jay Point County Park at our Winter Open House. Whether you’re a regular visitor or have...

Cost: Free

Where:
Blue Jay Point County Park
3200 Pleasant Union Church Road
Raleigh, NC  27614
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Telephone: 919-870-4330
Website »

More information

Hounded by Death, the character of Everybody desperately seeks out everyone and everything they know in hope of finding something meaningful to take to the grave. These 90 minutes of theatrical...

Cost: Ticket prices start at $15

Where:
PlayMakers' Repertory Company
120 Country Club Rd
Chapel Hill, NC  27599
View map »


Telephone: 919-962-7529

More information

Come on out to support the NC State Gymnastics team as they take on North Carolina in a RED out on February 1st! The first 300 fans in attendance will receive an exclusive red NC State Gymnastics...

Cost: $3-$7

Where:
Reynolds Collisuem
2411 Dunn Ave.
Raleigh , NC  27607
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More information

Come on out to support the NC State Gymnastics team as they take on North Carolina in a RED out on February 1st! The first 300 fans in attendance will receive an exclusive red NC State Gymnastics...

Cost: $3-$7

Where:
Reynolds Collisuem
2411 Dunn Ave.
Raleigh , NC  27607
View map »

More information

Hounded by Death, the character of Everybody desperately seeks out everyone and everything they know in hope of finding something meaningful to take to the grave. These 90 minutes of theatrical...

Cost: Ticket prices start at $15

Where:
PlayMakers' Repertory Company
120 Country Club Rd
Chapel Hill, NC  27599
View map »


Telephone: 919-962-7529

More information

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Annual Guides

Education Guide

The 2019-20 Education Guide offers 718 education resources in the Triangle, including area preschools, private schools, public school systems, charter schools, boarding schools and academic resources.

The Triangle Go-To Guide

Our Triangle Go-To Guide connects you to family fun resources across the Triangle. In our 2019-20 issue, explore 1,028 resources for family fun.