The 5th Anniversary Boating & Beach Bash for People with Disabilities, the largest fun-day event in the United States for people with physical and/or intellectual challenges, will once again celebrate community diversity on March 16, 2013, in Boca Raton, Florida. The event also honors the families and caregivers of attendees, and Purple Heart recipients living in South Florida. It is free to all, thanks to community support, donations and corporate sponsors.
This past March, following four years of unprecedented growth and local and national acclaim, the 2012 Bash attracted a record setting 4463 registered guests, supported by 501 volunteers. With attendance more than doubling each year since the event’s inception in 2009, organizers say the Bash has clearly hit a chord that resonates throughout South Florida’s disability community and beyond.
“We’ve been astounded by how we have been able to touch so many families and individual lives over the past five years,” says Bash founder and director Jay Van Vechten. In March of 2009, the first Bash drew 350 attendees. “We were thrilled with the turnout,” he adds. “Little did we know then what awaited us in the years that have followed. We couldn’t be happier with our growth.”
In 2010, organizers and volunteers were even more staggered when attendance jumped to 750 participants. By 2011 the Bash welcomed over 2000 men, women and children. “We were overjoyed with the response we received from the most underserved segment of our community. Our job,” Van Vechten continues, “is to treat everyone who attends like a VIP, because each of them is special. Seeing folks with unimaginable challenges and disabilities laughing and smiling, many for them for the first time, fills us with the determination to continue building this event. Hopefully one day we’ll be able to start replicating it across the nation in cities that have significant private boating communities, like New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, Seattle, LA and San Francisco.
A highlight of the annual Boating & Beach Bash for People with Disabilities is the opportunity for all guests to enjoy a half hour boat ride aboard a variety of luxury yachts and motor boats, loaned for the occasion by their generous owners. Most of the boats have traditionally been donated by members of Boca Raton’s Royal Palm Yacht & Country Club. In 2012, 30 yachts, each captained by a Coast Guard certified captain and trained crew, participated. There were 2200 rides logged for the day.
Thanks to the City of Boca Raton, a highlight of the Bash is the free admission to Boca’s famed Spanish River Park, site of the event. With 90 acres of picnic grounds and lush tropical gardens straddling the Atlantic Ocean and Intracoastal Waterway, the park is the most beautiful, publicly-accessible green belt on Florida’s Gold Coast. It offers a spectacular setting for a variety of on-land activities planned by Bash organizers. For those who wish, there’s also the option to enjoy a swim in the ocean, only feet from the event’s primary location.
Each year, guests are treated to a barbeque lunch with all the trimmings. Additionally there’s a Kids Fun Zone, where a variety of games, arts and crafts, await youngsters of all ages. In 2012 a half dozen musical acts and performance artists entertained guests. In 2013, even more acts are anticipated, as word spreads through the entertainment community about how rewarding it is for an artist to perform for people with special needs.
Also making a big splash with guests this past year were Animal Planet’s Gator Boys, complete with baby alligators, jaws taped shut. Tiny therapy ponies for petting and beautiful service dogs walked among picnickers.
A highlight for many attendees, particularly families and caregivers, is the chance to interact with exhibitors in a tented zone that includes more than 30 community service providers. Here guests learn about products and services unique to the South Florida disability community and beyond.