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24th & Lake partners work together; host 3,000+ at 10th Annual Christmas in the Village

800 bags of groceries provided to families during North Omaha’s largest holiday tradition

The Empowerment Network and community partners worked together to present the 10th Annual Christmas in the Village as a “Drive Thru” event.  It was truly a Joy Ride to remember for all ages.

Though the lines backed up all the way to Cuming and at times Highway 75, the anticipation was extremely high for those that waited patiently for their turn to go through the Drive Thru Christmas in the Village at 24th and Lake.  The pandemic forced changes to the event, but it couldn’t stop the spirit of the community.  Once the overflow traffic was organized, things went smoothly.

Judging by the reactions, smiles, ooohs and aaaaahs from children, parents, seniors and everyone in between, the 10th annual community celebration and holiday tradition delivered on the promise for all ages.

“It was awesome.  Really a lot of fun.  It really didn’t take that long to get through the line,” said one parent with three smiling children in the back checking out their “goodie bags.”

“The kids loved it,” said another.

“Thank you all for doing this,” said a woman driving a van through the event.

Music to the ears of event planner, Vicki Quaites-Ferris, Director of Operations for the Empowerment Network.  Faced with a world-wide pandemic and a spike in COVID cases locally, there were questions about what to do with Christmas in the Village this year.  Willie Barney, president of the Network, and Quaites-Ferris decided to take the vote to the committee.

The long-term partners agreed to host a drive thru event and practice all precautions needed to make it a safe event.

“We didn’t want to let the kids and families down,” said Barney.  “It’s been a tough and challenging year for everyone, but we believed we could still create a memorable and fun experience for children and families.  Our volunteers wore masks and used a lot of sanitizer.”

“It was even more than we expected,” said Quaites-Ferris.  “Our partners really came through.   In addition to the fun activities, we passed out sanitizer, masks and information on COVID-19.”

Christmas in the Village at 24th and Lake is part of a longer term vision and initiative to rebuild an arts, culture, entertainment and business district in the historic neighborhood.  The community-based North Omaha Village Revitalization Plan was facilitated by the Empowerment Network and Omaha Economic Development Corporation and developed with the input of 800+ adults and children.  It was approved unanimously by the Omaha City Council in 2011.

Major projects, events and developments have happened in the “Village Zone” since the passage of the Village plan.  It has served as a catalyst for hundreds of millions in public and private investments.  The theme of the plan:  Connecting a Rich History to a Thriving Future.

Barney came up with the idea for Christmas in the Village and shared a vision for the event with Quaites-Ferris, Deb Bunting and Stacy Henry Westbrook.  They worked quickly to develop the initial plan and implemented the first event in less than four weeks.  Michael Maroney and the team at OEDC also agreed to partner on the first event and have co-presented for 10 years with the Network.

“When Willie first shared the idea,” said Quaites-Ferris, “I said that sounds great, let’s do it next year.  He said, no, we need to do it this year.  We need to start bringing people back to 24th and Lake, even without any new buildings.”

Bunting had consistently shared that the arts can play a major role in rebuilding urban communities.  The strategy has had a very positive impact.  The initial attendance has grown to annually attract 3,000 to 5,000 attendees to the Village at 24th and Lake.

All rights reserved.  Photo by Neo Barney

The pandemic forced the team to innovate and do things differently.

“Even from their cars, participants were able to receive a free bag of groceries, see cartoon characters, listen to some amazing holiday music, wave at Santa, see live animals including a camel and donkey and get a free goodie bag,” she said.

“We essentially brought all of the activities outside so everyone could participate from their vehicle.”

Organizers couldn’t have asked for a better day.  With the sun shining bright and temperatures near 50 degrees, God smiled again on Christmas in the Village.

Along the route attendees could see Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Olaf, Ninja Turtle, Elsa, a dancing Doc McStuffins and for the first time, Black Panther.

“The children loved the characters,” said Ernest White, Vice President at American National Bank, one of the major sponsors and a lead volunteer at every one of the 10 Christmas in the Village Celebrations.

“Look mom, Look, Black Panther!, WOW!” said one child.

“Oooo wee, there’s a Ninja Turtle”, said another.

Those comments of pure fun and delight could be heard thousands of times all day.  Balloon characters were also very popular including Frosty, Snoopy, a giant black Santa and a holiday Minion.

There was a constant stream of cars throughout the event.  Some even started to line up as early as 10:30 am, even though the event didn’t officially start until noon.

This was the first year for the drive thru version, so getting the traffic organized along 24th street took some time.  Overwhelmingly, community members were very understanding as thousands waited patiently waving and thanking organizers for not cancelling the event.

“We’ve been a part of every event since its inception,” said Michael Maroney, President of Omaha Economic Development Corporation, one of the presenting organizations.  “It was amazing to see so many cars come through the event.  It’s great to see what the event has become for the community.  Before Christmas in the Village, we hadn’t ever had anything like this in North Omaha.”

OEDC staff Geneva Lopez, Cynthia Hume, Mike Schulz, Toni Tyree, NAACP president Vickie Young and a large team of volunteers welcomed families to the event by providing a bag full of groceries from the Fair Deal Grocery Marketplace.  Families were incredibly appreciative as COVID has been extremely challenging in many ways.  800 bags of groceries were distributed during Christmas in the Village.

The food was made possible through the Healthy Village Collaborative facilitated by the Empowerment Network and supported with Cares funding provided by the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.

The whole route was full of surprises for the kids, but the most popular moment seemed to be the opportunity to see Santa standing near the street waving and wishing everyone a Merry Christmas.  Children and adults alike were smiling ear to ear with eyes wide open.

Santa was positioned right next to a new stage brought in to bring the singing and music closer to the cars.  Santa’s visit each year is coordinated by Yolanda Barney of Revive Omaha Magazine and Revive Center.

The music, always a huge part of the event, was even more amazing this year as it was pumping up and down historic North 24th Street.  Duke Rigg and his team have excellently managed the sound every year for ten years.

All rights reserved.  Photo by Neo Barney

“We had an awesome lineup again,” said Barney.  “We kicked off with Big Wade and the Last Few, and continued music all day with Gus McNair, Chad Stoner, Millicent Crawford, Eric and Doriette Jordan, Jarron Taylor and LaShaun McCroy.   Most have been with us every year.  Some of the best artists in the city.”

All rights reserved.  Photo by Neo Barney

People were literally dancing in the streets and singing along in their cars as they drove past.  The warm holiday spirit could be felt throughout the event.  Volunteers were smiling and waving, and wishing a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all.

All rights reserved.  Photo by Neo Barney

Jonathan Chapman of the Empowerment Network and owner of a video and media company organized for the first time, a live broadcast of the event.  He used it as an opportunity to train youth to bring a “Macy Days Parade” approach to Christmas in the Village.  The video was available and can still be seen on the Empowerment Network’s Facebook page.

And though the event wasn’t able to host the Holiday Boutique, Aisha Conner of the Network and organizer of the annual Boutique found ways to incorporate Black Business owners into the event.

Candice Price, co-owner of Hometeam Auto, brought cars from her lot and positioned them at key points along the route.

All rights reserved.  Photo by Neo Barney

“To sum up 2020 Christmas in the Village in two words… Simply Ahhmazing!  It was a spectacular event enjoyed by thousands in the community.  From live music, to giveaways including groceries for families, to local black owned businesses being given an opportunity to introduce their companies to so many, and even a fabulous manger set up with live animals!  There was truly something for everyone!  And to set it all up safely, in the midst of COVID-19, for all to enjoy is exactly what made it the event of the year,” said Price.

Leo Louis, CEO of his new moving company, Somebody with a Truck, was contracted to pick up and deliver items for Christmas in the Village and was able to post up his truck to help with distribution.

Ashley Reddick, owner of Mise En Scene Events, designed and installed beautiful balloon displays along the route.  Entrepreneur and decorating consultant Carolyn Holmes wrapped the street poles beautifully with garland and flowers.

Jason Fischer, CEO of Surreal Media Lab, roamed the streets looking for the perfect moments to capture via video and photography.  Jason is another partner who has partnered every year, producing excellent videos and capturing the essence of the event.

All of the traditional small businesses that participate in Holiday Boutique can be found on the Revive Omaha special edition online.

“You can support those businesses and others online with the virtual shopping guide,” said Conner.

Another black owned business that played a huge role was Calvin Jones and his team from Lions Gate Security.  Jones went above and beyond by jumping in to help save the day and directing traffic at the 24th and Hamilton intersection.

All rights reserved.  Photo by Neo Barney

“It’s hard to believe it’s been 10 years,” said Quaites-Ferris.  “I want to thank all of the partners and volunteers for being a part of the event.  Others from the planning team included the Omaha Star, Great Plains Black History Museum and OPD.  The FBI Community Outreach Team, Bryant Center, UNO and Kappa Leaguers also came through big time.”

“This is the Village in action.  Everyone working together, loving on each other, helping and supporting each other,” said Barney.  “We will keep building on this community spirit.  Now, we are moving to monthly events at 24th and Lake.”

All rights reserved.  Photo by Neo Barney

Christmas in the Village is presented by the Empowerment Network and Omaha Economic Development Corporation.  American National Bank is the gold sponsor and has supported the vision for 10 years.  Other major sponsors include the Nebraska Arts Council, Douglas County Visitors Bureau and the North Omaha Turnback Tax Committee.  Media sponsors include KETV and Revive Omaha Magazine.

Over 100 community partners have worked with the Empowerment Network to host the event each year.

All rights reserved.  Photo by Neo Barney

“The holidays bring about a true sense of community. Anytime organizations, businesses and volunteers can share a few laughs, listen to the soulful sounds of Christmas, all while serving a need in our community, that’s a beautiful blessing. Despite the pandemic, we were determined to make CITV20 a success.  CITV is a family tradition. Four generations strong for my camp. We look forward to it every year.”  – Vickie Young

All rights reserved.  Photo by Neo Barney

“This year’s drive through celebration of Christmas in the village was nothing shy of breath taking.  Being able to see so much of the community still gather and celebrate the season in a safe way definitely helped lift my spirits during this difficult time.” – Sha’lise Oliver, college student and volunteer.

All rights reserved.  Photo by Neo Barney

“There was an individual who came thru the line – he wasn’t sure what was going on but said he was ‘just following traffic.’   When we handed him the bag of groceries he was appreciative as he didn’t know he was getting food – Gave him the bag and he said:   ‘Oh thank you I’m so appreciative because I don’t have any food right now.  It’s going to help out a lot.’  He had tears in his eyes because he was so appreciative.” – Cynthia L. Hume, Manager, Fair Deal Village MarketPlace

Source:  Revive Omaha Magazine

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Community News

Darnell Relford brings delicious casual food to 24th & Lake at Champions Cafe

Published:  Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Darnell Relford was always destined to become a chef, shadowing his family’s rich history in the food industry dating back generations. His grandfather, Beatren “Humpie” Relford, cooked for Omaha’s legendary Skeet’s BBQ.  His uncle, Arnold, was well-known for his finger-licking barbecue sauce.

At a younger age, Relford found himself at home in the kitchen. He worked for years behind the scenes at a number of casual and fast serve restaurants in Omaha.

Relford’s first break into the food industry started as a line cook, later advancing his career into a general manager position. His background ranges from breakfast foods to burgers and classic to southern.

The various trials in the kitchen skillfully molded his capabilities to cook and craft a wide array of flavorsome dishes.

Relford’s relatives would be proud to see how he continues their family cooking tradition down the line with nothing short of excellence.

Relford is a man of God and dedicated to his family.  Of all of the roles that he plays, being a father to his son, Prince, brings him the greatest joy.

Darnell is committed to his community and lives the life of a servant leader.  He’s an associate minister at Launch Church International under the leadership of Pastor Jalaal Wade and Apostle Edna Perkins.

He has a passion for ministry and also loves teaching the next generation about leadership, excellence and opportunities in the food industry.  In 2021, he was a part of the Step Up Omaha culinary training team and received great reviews from the youth interns.

In addition to his cooking skills, Relford is an entrepreneur and has some of his own new business concepts that are coming soon.

“I grew up in this neighborhood,” said Relford. “It’s great to be back home doing what my family has always done…giving the people great food in a welcoming atmosphere and building up the community.”

Relford Brings Talents to Champions Cafe at the Revive Center

Champions Cafe at the Revive Center
In the Village at 24th and Lake
Open Tuesday – Saturday 11:30 am to 2:00 pm

In 2019, Darnell joined the team at the Revive Center at 24th and Lake. Initially, he worked with Willie and Yolanda Barney to help set up the front of the house.

As The Center began to hit its stride, the pandemic swept through the community, forcing businesses to shut down.

When businesses started to reopen, Relford stepped up to plate at The Center to roll out an all-new menu for its concept now referred to as “Champions Cafe.”

Owners Willie and Yolanda Barney say the cafe name was inspired by the great champions from North Omaha.

Revive Center’s co-owner Willie Barney had held a vision for 30 years to have a family-oriented restaurant where customers can catch a game while they dine on casual foods like wings, burgers and salads. He had also written a business plan for an event center starting as far back as 2001.

After hearing the inspiration and vision of the Barney’s, Relford quickly hit the ground running. He first created a burger menu including what he calls the Hawaiian and California burgers. The patties and toppings were instant hits.

“I love it. The California is my favorite,” reflects Don McPherson, owner of Styles of Evolution who carried on, “Man, with that pineapple and barbecue sauce.”

Next Relford added the Revive Burger and Big Lake. The Big Lake brings a smile to his face when he describes it.

“It’s not just the Lake, it’s the ‘Big’ Lake,” said Relford with a hearty laugh. “Burger, bacon, topped with an egg however you want it and a toasted bun.”

Relford jokes, “We don’t advise you eat it every day, but every once in a while, go ahead and enjoy yourself.”

The burgers all come with a side.  Customers can select from fries, mac and cheese, corn, green beans or a side salad.

If your preference is more on the lighter side for a main course, Relford has come up with multiple salad options.  The most popular are the Very Berry and the Cobb salads.

A number of customers have remarked and said the Cobb salad is the best they have ever had.

The original Very Berry salad was created by another Revive Center chef, Ms. Linda McKleny.  The salad features fresh fruit including strawberries and cranberries.

Customers call it “a refreshing, but filling dish.”  The salad is topped with a perfectly seasoned grilled chicken breast to top things off.  Darnell has added his own twist to the salad as well.

Relford has also added a crispy chicken or grilled chicken salad which is amazingly tasty and rivals anything you would find at top restaurants around the city.

Foodies who prefer chicken over a burger will not be dissatisfied with their choice of the menu.  Relford cooks up a specialty Northside Chicken Sandwich made from scratch with additional fixings.

Another highlight of the main menu for Champions Cafe is the Gametime Chicken Strips.  As one of the best sellers, it comes with a choice of three or five chicken strips with four mouthwatering flavor options:  lemon pepper, garlic, spicy or BBQ.

“We have consistently received great reviews from customers about the food,” said Yolanda Barney.  “Darnell and the other chefs and cooks do a great job and we are excited to bring different food options back to this historic corner.”

“Darnell is amazing to work with, has a commitment to quality and he’s always looking for new food to bring to the customers.  He’s also very open to feedback.”

The positive comments from customers continuously roll in.  Relford has more items to add to the menu, but he said he’ll keep those as a secret for now.

“The pandemic and weather slowed things down in January, but get ready for an amazing spring and summer,” said Yolanda Barney.

“Last year we really hit our stride with a mixture of major community events and private events.  Now we are preparing to expand the daily food options and the events are ramping up again in March.”

The Barney’s suggest to look out for more great food and products coming from Relford and others like him in the historic 24th and Lake District.

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Careers

David Pollock launches Code Black to bring people of color into tech

Published:  January 20, 2022

David Pollock is on a mission.  Driven by purpose and a clear vision to see his beloved community empowered, David is helping to bring African-Americans and people of color further into the tech industries.

To accomplish his goal, David has launched Code Black, a non-profit organization focused on fostering collaboration and sponsorship between Black and Latinx who are emerging and experienced professionals in technology.

He launched the organization in the midst of the pandemic which is a great example of his commitment to the cause.  He reached out to professionals in the industry and other leaders in the community to make sure he was creating something that would be of value to others.

Pollock did the work necessary to build a solid foundation.  After years of preparation, he stepped out in faith to make it a reality.

While others pulled back during the pandemic, he continued to push forward.  He is also a strong believer in collaboration and team work.  Others have joined in to support him with his mission.  It’s a beautiful thing to see, preparation meet opportunity.

David not only believes in the importance of education, he is leading by example in that area as well.  David obtained his master’s in Organizational Leadership from Bellevue University.

He is also able to speak the language of those he seeks to see empowered.  David’s tech experience and certifications consist of in IBM Cognitive Analytics (Chatbot), Grow with Google (app development), Drone software developer, Software: Airsim – Unreal Engine 4 – Watson Image Classification system, Languages: Java, C++ and Python.

Before starting Code Black, David worked 3 ½ years as a Fatherhood Coordinator and 4 ½ years as a college success advisor for students of color.  These experiences allowed him to gain additional insights on how he could better serve his own community.

After a successful career in coaching, mentoring and developing programs, David is now leading the way with others to create an organization where Black and Latinx in technology impact the very community that they live in.  His initial focus is the State of Nebraska.

Most importantly, David is a dedicated husband and father.  He and his wife are consistently engaged in work to improve their community and highly regarded in the areas of leadership development, career advancement, tech, diversity and inclusion and innovation.

David is available for community networking and for business collaboration.  You can reach David at 402-515-8865 or david1pollock@codeblackinc.com

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Community Features

Thousands attend 11th Annual Christmas in the Village at 24th & Lake

The streets were once again full of smiling, laughing and dancing children, families and community members celebrating the holiday spirit at 24th and Lake.

After making the decision to convert the event into a drive thru in 2020, Christmas in the Village returned to the streets of 24th and Lake in a big way.

“Though last year turned out to be an excellent event and much needed escape from the pandemic with over 1,000 cars driving through, it was amazing to see children and families return to 24th and Lake to enjoy themselves and celebrate the season at Christmas in the Village,” said Willie Barney, CEO and founder of the Empowerment Network.

“It’s hard to believe it’s been 11 years since we launched the event and inspiring to see how much it has grown and the impact that it has made.”

Christmas in the Village is presented by the Empowerment Network and OEDC in partnership with dozens of organizations and businesses.  Major sponsors include American National Bank, Douglas County Visitors Fund, North Omaha Turnback Tax Committee, Nebraska Arts Council, KETV, Revive and main stage sponsor, Veridian Credit Union.

It started as a vision from Barney. He presented the idea for the event to Vicki Quaites-Ferris, Stacy Henry, Deb Bunting, Michael Maroney and the OEDC team.  They jumped on board and the first event was planned in just four weeks back in 2011.

Over 70 businesses, organizations, artists and ministries worked together to make the event possible this year.

“Christmas in the Village is a great example of what is possible when we collaborate and each business and organization does their part,” said Barney. “We have been able to create a high quality and well attended event with the help of so many partners. It has also served as a catalyst to show what’s possible here in this historic district.”

The day started with volunteers and businesses working together to place inflatable balloons and characters up and down 24th Street. Business owners swept sidewalks. Volunteers raked leaves. Tents and games were set up early in the morning.

By 10 am, children and families started arriving to receive free gifts from the toy giveaway arranged by 4 Urban and sponsored by UNO.

By 10:30, teams had put Street barricades in place and the event officially started at noon with the Bryant Center’s Condor Drum Corp leading Mr and Mrs Claus down N 24th Street in a horse drawn carriage.

“It was a beautiful sight,” said Vicki Quaites-Ferris, Director of Operations for the Empowerment Network and event manager.

“The streets were lined with families who were excited to see the drum team, elves, and of course, Santa and Mrs. Claus.”

That was just the beginning of a day full of interactive and fun activities. Some have called it a “Winter Wonderland.” People come from all over the region and some as far away as St Louis, Kansas City and Minneapolis rave about the event.

Visitors were treated to free carriage rides sponsored by the Network.

There were face painters in the Fair Deal and families could receive discounts and specials from the local businesses. One of the businesses, Still Poppin, was also celebrating five years in business.

At OEDC, children could wave to Mrs. Claus, receive a free goodie bag and play interactive games.

Tasty food was available on both ends of the event. Smoking Guns and A Taste of New Orleans food trucks were on the street and the Revive Center served customers throughout the day. Between the trucks and Revive those in attendance had a wide range of options.

Some new businesses experienced Christmas in the Village for the very first time. Ital Vital Living which opened this past summer selling smoothies and juices in the former location of the Cooler, hosted a Selfie photo booth and sold their delicious products.

“We had a great turnout and response throughout the day,” said Imani Murry. “24th and Lake is a beautiful place to celebrate the holidays and it was so awesome to see so many kids and families here. We’ve had some great events this fall and this was the largest.”

Just to the North, the Union returned as a participant with a balloon artist, interactive children’s activities and the highly popular Raku pottery.

The largest crowds always gather in Dreamland Park for an awesome holiday concert featuring some of Omaha’s top gospel and jazz artists, including Millicent Crawford, Kathy Tyree, The Arvies, Eric and Doriette Jordan, Chad Stoner and Big Wade.

Pear Tree Performing Arts wasn’t able to perform in 2020 but returned once again to deliver inspiring dance routines in front of a packed audience. The Sacred Heart children’s choir also joined in for the first time and thoroughly enjoyed the event.

Another crowd favorite is the live nativity scene complete with a camel, donkey and other animals. The Empowerment Network partners with Mt. Moriah and Scatter Joy Acres on the attraction that draws great reactions from kids.

There was plenty of hot apple cider and cookies provided by Styles of Evolution.

“We doubled up this year on cider and cookies and we ran out midway through the event there were so many people,” said Don McPherson, owner of Styles.

Kids and families enjoyed all their holiday favorites including hot chocolate, cookies, popcorn, cotton candy and other snacks available from different locations.

The Omaha Police Department handed out candy canes and stickers. The Black Police Officers Association has been involved every year as a sponsor and handing out toys and candy bags in partnership with Revive and Santa.  The Omaha Fire Department provided an interactive experience that kids seemed to thoroughly enjoy.

Bridge Church joined in for the first time with some excellent and engaging activities outside on Lake Street.

The Great Plains Black History Museum presented a Tuskegee Airmen exhibit and handed out free candy.

The Omaha Star provided a children’s activity book and sold subscriptions.

Families stopped by the Carver Legacy Center and received some swag and information from the Carver team and American National Bank. American National Bank is a platinum sponsor and has supported Christmas in the Village every year since it started.

One of the other major impacts with Christmas in the Village is the support for local small businesses. Many of them reported record sales during the five hour event.

“We truly appreciate the support from our community” said Valerie Bradford, owner of Divine Nspirations.

“An event like this can do wonders for a small business. We did very well and it’s such a positive experience for families.”

Further to the South, LeFlores New Look Fashions, Get N Go Foods and other businesses also participate and see the economic impact of Christmas in the Village.

Because of the pandemic, precautions were implemented to keep attendees safe. Most activities were held outside and masks were required when guests ventured inside buildings. Hand sanitizer was distributed and available at every location.

Although the group would much rather have had Santa interact directly with the kids all day, he was primarily waving through a window from a specially made office on 24th Street. It still created some awesome moments and memories.

“We want to thank all of our partners, sponsors and volunteers,” said Quaites-Ferris. “This wouldn’t be possible without them.”

Another major bonus was the nearly 300 residents that received their vaccinations through a partnership between the IMA, Mocha Docs, Douglas County Health Department, Mt. Moriah and the Empowerment Network.

“We worked with the county and they brought all three vaccinations and the booster as we requested,” said Pastor Portia Cavitt, president of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance and Senior Pastor of Clair Memorial Church.

“I was out talking with the people and encouraging them to come get vaccinated right there on the spot. There was a tremendous response. We want the County to do more of this. Meet the people where they are.”

That was music to the ears of the organizers.

“The Village is a now a place where you can play, eat, shop, sing, worship, enjoy family, get healthy and have a great time throughout the year, not only during the holidays,” said Barney.

“When we created Christmas in the Village 11 years ago, part of the vision was to bring people back to 24th and Lake and to serve as a catalyst for holistic revitalization.”

“The momentum is building. We’ve come a long way, but even greater things are just ahead. 2022 will be the best ever.”

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2021 Photo Gallery

 

 

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