GONZALES — Tony Christy grabbed a handful of beads and popped open a Mardi Gras-themed umbrella Friday as he led the Ascension Fair Association board members on a second-line dance to kick off the group’s annual Mardi Gras Gala.

“Let’s get this ball rolling,” Christy, president of the group, said as board members lined up behind him.

Gloria Burns, the association’s program coordinator, wasn’t far behind Christy, organizing the group and making sure everyone had beads to throw to the crowd gathered at the Gonzales Civic Center.

“It’s a sell-out, but people are arriving a little late tonight,” longtime association member Richard Brown said.

“It’s a party with a purpose and we’ve got great support tonight,” he said.

The ball raises money to support the association’s educational, youth and health programs held throughout the year.

“We’re all here for the same reason — our community,” Burns said.

The all-volunteer group started in 1950 as the Ascension Negro Fair Association by a group of Prairieville residents hoping to promote agricultural growth and provide educational and recreational activities for the residents of the area, Christy said.

The name changed in the 1960s and the group’s mission expanded to “provide support and to improve the quality of life for the Prairieville and surrounding areas by focusing on education, enrichment and empowerment of our youth, elderly, family unit and the community,” the group’s mission statements says.

Burns said volunteers are an important part of the association and she encourages others to get involved.

“All it takes is one person to show someone else that people can really make a difference in our community,” Burns said.

Burns’ great-grandfather, Leo Christy, was a founding member of the association and today, she works with her sister, Jennifer Moses, to provide needed services to the community, she said.

Children can register for the group’s fourth-grade LEAP test workshop set for March 7 at Mount Gillion Baptist Church in Prairieville.

The event is free and open to the public. To register, visit the group’s website at http://www.ascensionfair.com.

The group’s Live Healthy workshop series starts April 11 at the association’s fairgrounds and plans are set for a June 22 Kids Fishing Day at the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center.