ARLINGTON — Dozens attended the fifth annual Friendship Walk and Car Wash on Saturday, Sept. 22, at Legion Park, and raised more than $2,500 for Village Community Services and its Village Music and Arts Program.
“This started as a fundraiser for our band Voices of the Village and our music and arts program,” said Michelle Dietz, director of development at VCS. “It was just two parents who volunteered to get things started and it went from there.”
In addition to raising funds, the event is also held to help bring together the community, particularly to include adults with disabilities.
“The goal of the event is to raise awareness about people who have disabilities in our community and celebrate their abilities,” said Dietz. “Our band is an example of talent and joy for life.”
The Voices of the Village band is made up of several adults and children who use the VCS services and enjoy making music and performing for a crowd. Their presence helped to bridge the gap between adults with disabilities and other members of the community.
“My uncles are in the band and they are handicapped,” said Kennedy McCarter, 10. “I come here to support them.”
McCarter’s uncles — Sean McCollum and Jimmy Miller — are an essential part of why the Friendship Walk began. Their mother, Vicki Adams, is a board member at VCS and is one of the two volunteers who got it started.
“We called it the ‘Friendship Walk,’ because we are hoping to bring the community in to help bridge the gap,” said Adams. “This year we had a white dove release, face painting, the Reptile Woman, a little cooker from the Point Church. We are hoping to build an event that people will come to, with their kids, to enjoy.”
Adams told the story of how she adopted McCollum and Miller. “When I first met Jimmy, he was 9 years old. I ran a daycare, and he would sit in a ball and rock back and forth,” she said. “After spending time in my daycare, with all these normal kids around him, he got better. He’s been able to develop a lot more from interacting with other people.”
It’s important for Adams, and other parents of people with disabilities, to have their children interact with others. “That was the feeling we wanted for this event. To make it safe for people to interact and become friends with them. But it’s hard to bridge that gap. We don’t want pity. We want to be looked at as valid members of the community who have a purpose.”
Other parents, including Norine Vanney, agree.
“My son, Jerry, plays the bongos in the band,” she said. “We’ve been coming from the time it was first organized. A lot of people have never had experience with disabilities and it opened their eyes. Our kids are not as different as everybody thinks. They are not someone to be scared of.”
Jerry Vanney is a musician in the Voices of the Village and has found success there.
“He’s got a great memory for technology,” said Norine Vanney. “He’s done remarkable things.”
And Jerry isn’t the only member of the Vanney family to find happiness in the music and arts program — his niece, Lexi Vanney, is a singer.
“My uncle is in the band and I’m a singer,” said Lexi Vanney, 11. “I’ve been singing my whole life. I used to sing ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’ but now I sing Adele, mostly.”
Melissa Vanney, Lexi’s mom, says that the Friendship Walk is important to her and her family. “Lexi has special needs as well. She has sensory integration disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder,” said Melissa Vanney. “I really like the Friendship Walk because I like to see different people come out and support people with special needs. Their disability is not something to be scared of. I wish everyone in the community would realize that these people are not monsters.”
One of the songs that Voices of the Village sings is “Everybody’s got a Light to Shine” and Tim Adams, husband of Vicki Adams, said that the lyrics are particularly applicable.
“It’s been a life-changing experience having Sean and Jim in our lives,” he said. “It’s taught us unconditional love and acceptance of people no matter what they look like on the outside. Not just people with disabilities either. I think the song lyrics make a lot of sense in that way. Everybody has a purpose.”
Village Community Services is presenting the second annual Halloween Concert and Costume Contest on Saturday, Oct. 27, at the Byrnes Performing Arts Center at Arlington High School from 3-5 p.m. The cost is $10 per person or $35 for a family.
“These events provide an opportunity for people with severe developmental disabilities to interact with their community so people can see them as individuals with a personality and likes and dislikes. They are valued members of the community,” said Dietz.
For more information about Village Community Services contact their office at 360-653-7752.