Nick De Mauro knows a thing or two about pulling off big events. As chairman and CEO of the New Jersey DARE Program, which has offices in Cranbury, he oversees an annual $2 million cash budget and $80 million services budget, and he hosts numerous large, complex events every year, including, he says, a "huge" fair in Paramus, as well as black tie dinners and fundraiser walks. So when De Mauro – a resident of Allentown for five years, with his wife and three children, aged 15, 7, and 5 – got an idea to help churches and nonprofits in town raise some money, it was easy for him to germinate the perfect idea and turn it into reality.

His idea spurred the first Allentown Freedom Fest, a blockbuster fair that this year will celebrate its third year and span six days, Sunday to Friday, July 18 to 23. The event, which takes place on seven acres at the Allentown/Upper Freehold school grounds, features the largest midway in central New Jersey, top-notch live entertainment – all New Jersey bands, including the Nerd and the Fabulous Greaseband, and the B-Street Band, which performs a tribute to Springsteen – as well as rides, food, and craft vendors.

"My idea was really a mission to create a festival where the Allentown Presbyterian Church, which hosts a number of mission trips, such as building houses in Guatemala, and other churches and non-profits could come together to raise money and raise the profile of Allentown and Upper Freehold Township," says De Mauro. To help realize his vision he called on Amusements of America in Jamesburg, with which he had worked on previous DARE events and which just happens to be the largest carnival company in the world, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.

De Mauro, who serves as co-chair of Freedom Fest, says the festival committee first developed a three-to-five-year business plan. "We wanted to have a plan to see if the idea was viable," he says. So far, so good. Last year, the second year of the festival, ride ticket sales doubled from the inaugural year, a statistic De Mauro says is the only tangible measure they have of attendance. Last year they estimated 6,000 people attended.

"It’s one level below the state fair," says De Mauro, citing the caliber of live entertainment and major rides, including the Banzai, a gondola that goes upside down, and the Himalayas, a spinning ride, in addition to a wide selection of craft vendors, a petting zoo, a fireworks display on Saturday, July 23, and more. "This is not your small town carnival."

Freedom Fest, Allentown/Upper Freehold school grounds, Monday through Thursday, July 18 to 21, 5 to 10 p.m.; Friday, July 22, 5 to 11 p.m.; Saturday, July 23, 3 to 11 p.m., with fireworks in the evening. A mile and a half from Exit 9 of Route 195 and three miles from Exit 7A of the New Jersey Turnpike. For entertainment schedule and directions visit www.allentownfest.com. Free admission. 609-259-2233.

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