How One Local Community Holds an Annual Boating and Beach Bash

IN 2009, BOCA RATON, FL., STARTED HOSTING AN ANNUAL PICNIC FOR PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES. FIVE YEARS LATER IT HAS EMERGED AS THE LARGEST FREE, FUN EVENT IN THE NATION FOR PEOPLE WITH PHYSICAL AND/OR INTELLECTUAL CHALLENGES

The Secret: Treat Everyone like a VIP for the Day at a Celebration that’s all About Them! 

PRESS RELEASE: Boca Raton, FL., Summer, 2013…This past March, for the 5th year in a row, folks began arriving on a sunny Saturday morning in wheelchairs, on walkers, gripping canes, led by service dogs, or holding on to the arms of loved ones or caregivers.  One by one, men, women and children with every conceivable disability poured into Boca Raton, Florida’s spectacular, tree-shaded Spanish River Park for the annual Boating & Beach Bash for People with Disabilities – a daylong celebration dedicated to embracing community diversity. 

Fronting on the Atlantic Ocean and the Intracoastal Waterway, the park is now home to the largest, free, annual fun day in the nation for people with special needs.  Dubbed the “Miracle on the Intracoastal,” by Florida media, it is for many attendees their most anticipated outing of the year.

“We reach out across the state and nation to invite families that have a loved one with a challenge to enjoy a free day of picnicking, boat rides, live music, fun and games suited to all abilities, no matter how limited.  For most, it is the one event where they can fully relax and not be judged or stared at for their differences.  For the 5,500 guests who participated in the 2013 Bash, and for the 500 volunteers there to help them, it is one of the most memorable days of their lives,” says Jay Van Vechten, Bash founder and executive director.

Started in 2009, the first Bash attracted 350 participants.  This year sixteen times that many were on hand to enjoy the event’s unprecedented growth. “Clearly we’ve struck a chord in the disability community,” says Van Vechten. “The thing that makes this event work so well is that it is totally free with no strings attached. Everything is taken care of from complimentary park admission, courtesy of the City of Boca Raton, to a hot BBQ lunch with all the trimmings, a nonstop concert with multiple performing artists, numerous exhibits and attractions and, at the heart of the Bash, the opportunity to ride on the privately owned motor yachts, lent for the day by members of Boca’s famed Royal Palm Yacht & Country Club.”  All expenses for the Bash are met through private and corporate donations. 

Van Vechten notes that the basic premise for this event can be easily replicated across the nation.

“For those who like to see their money at work,” he says, “There’s no better way than to have an immediate payoff with those you wish to support. With one in five Americans having a disability, we have to take care of one another in imaginative but simple ways. The Bash accomplishes that exactly,” he adds.

Wendy Friswell, a Bash principal and volunteer, says, “Our special needs population tends to live restricted lives. Most of the folks attending the Bash are unlikely to visit the mall, the local movies or even hang out at a fast food restaurant with friends. The majority have never been on a boat or even enjoyed a picnic in the park with their family, but they get to do that each year at the Bash,” she adds.

Ms. Friswell notes that what makes the Bash so special is that from the moment guests arrive at the park until volunteer’s line up to wave goodbye as they drive away, every attendee is treated like a VIP, “Even those who have no verbal skills still smile at the kindness that surrounds them each year at this incredible event.”

Many guests now attend the Bash from throughout the state and beyond. “March is the nicest time of year in South Florida”, says Van Vechten, “So for a family with special needs, it is a desirable time to have a holiday or even long weekend in the Greater Boca Raton area, which prides itself on its beach and park accessibility,” he says. “Even families and caregivers are treated as VIP’s, helping us create happy memories for all attendees.”   

The 2013 Bash had 45 volunteers just to cook and serve a hot BBQ lunch to the 5,500 Bash attendees. Among the items offered, were sausages, hamburgers, cheeseburgers, pulled pork and hot dogs with all the trimmings. Nick Loeb, fiancé of ABC Modern Family’s Sofia Vergara, provided 5,000 bags of his new condiment hit, Onion Crunch, while Neutrogena gave away 5,000 full sized tubes of its SPF 60 Sensitive Skin Sunscreen to help protect delicate complexions. The Office Depot Foundation, provided backpacks for all the youngsters to carry their various goodies home, including pencil bags, crayons, and erasers and, from Career Builders Inc., jewel toned retractable pens.

Nashville singer and recording artist Tim Charron, American Idol’s Brett Loewenstern and a host of rising stars from the South Florida stage, provided a day long, nonstop concert.  Many revelers did line dances while others rocked back and forth in their wheelchairs to the music.

Down by the waterfront, 30 active US Coast Guard, stood shoulder to shoulder with local life guards to help guests board and then disembark from the 20 boats, lent for the day by member of Royal Palm Yacht & Country Club, a major supporter of the Bash. Many families got to enjoy their first ever boat ride, as they cruised up and down Florida’s famed Intracoastal Waterway.  When required, even those in wheelchairs were lifted on and off the various boats, which this year included President H.W. Bush’s personal speedboat – still bearing the presidential insignia on its sleek, navy blue hull.

Bash organizers encourage other cities with boating access to replicate the Bash.  “We’d like to see more Bash-like events created in cities like Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, New Orleans, Seattle, San Francisco, St. Louis and Portland,” says Van Vechten. “Any community that is on the water and has resident boaters can do this. We’d love to help make that happen and hope other towns contact us for support and guidance.”

For more information about the Boating & Beach Bash for People with Disabilities, write Boating Beach Bash, PO Box 99, Boca Raton, FL 33429 or call 561.715.2622.  The next Bash will be held March 22, 2014. For further information visit www.boatingbeachbash.com, or follow the Bash on Facebook @ Boating & Beach Bash for People with Disabilities.

Editors please note: High resolution, professional photos are available at your request.

Contact:

Boating & Beach Bash

For People with Disabilities

www.boatingbeachbash.com

P.O. BOX 99

BOCA RATON, FL  33429

Phone: 561.715.2622

Email: Jay@boatingbeachbash.com

Contact: Jay Van Vechten


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