Praise for the Lewis County Accessible Recreation program from participants, organizers, parents and caretakers was effusive and passionate on Wednesday.
“This is just something that people with disabilities really need,” Vicky Romero said.
In August, the Lewis County Accessible Recreation program, which connects adults with special needs through weekly gatherings, celebrated its first year in operation. Caretaker Valerie Eveland said the outings are “a lifeline for us.”
Wednesday morning, roughly 25 participants and their families gathered at the Veterans Memorial Museum for a potluck, award show and bubble party.
“There’s a ton of people. This place has just grown and grown,” Mary Demun said. “It’s really fun.”
The celebration marked the end of the second annual “Fun in the Sun” month, which includes various activities in themed events.
And the events have proven to be popular. Participation has grown from one attendee last August to 70 registered participants in the program, according to organizers.
“It’s been pretty awesome to see how it’s grown,” said Romero, an event organizer.
The free program offers a variety of activities that anyone over 18 years old with varying physical or mental disabilities can participate in.
The schedule for September includes a craft day, a movie, bingo at Alexander Park and a “Discover Lewis County Day.” Some of the events, such as the Twin City Transit Day, aim to teach participants applicable life skills through group outings.
“We’ve noticed that that transportation piece is a big barrier in our community,” Romero said.
Since its inception, the program has benefited loved ones just as much as participants.
Part of the benefits, caregivers say, is a space where they can let their guard down, free from any judgment.
“We learn from each other,” caretaker Kathy Meade said. “We need to socialize with people who know what it’s like to care for a special needs person.”
During Wednesday’s event, each attendee received a certificate and participation medal for the program, with state Rep. Peter Abbarno, R-Centralia, on hand to help dish out the awards.
“Anytime you can celebrate accessibility and inclusion in your community, you should,” Abbarno said.
Abbarno said as a former Centralia City Council member and now as the ranking member of the House Capital Budget Committee, he has pushed for inclusivity.
“It’s something that’s near and dear to my heart,” he said.
Following the awards ceremony, participants, including Abbarno, ventured outside for an impromptu dance in a pile of foam. The group also holds quarterly dances, which caregivers said are among the most popular events.
Organizers said the event offered families that may otherwise feel isolated an opportunity to be social.
“When COVID hit and everything shut down, it was really hard on a lot of our participants,” organizer Katrina Fillmore said.
The program receives money from Lewis County and accepts donations to fund the outings. According to caretakers, it’s well worth the investment.
“The money we get from Lewis County is not spent in a better place, as far as we’re concerned,” Eveland said. “It’s a very big deal, particularly for the caretakers.”
Those interested in joining can call 360-472-8301 or email Lcassebilerecreation@gmail.com. Those interested in donating should write checks that include “courtesy of Lewis County Accessible Recreation.”