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'This is their big day': Differently Abled Fun Fair celebrates 10 years

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Nia Trammel and Danasia "Nana" Hooker at Koinonia's Differently Abled Fun Fair.

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By Kim Grizzard
The Daily Reflector

Friday, May 10, 2019

This Mother's Day weekend, Trisha Evans is making time to take her kids to a birthday party and get a massage — at the same location.

Partying and pampering are both part of the Differently Abled Fun Fair to be held Saturday at the Greenville Convention Center. Now in its 10th year, the event is a festival for those with severe and profound disabilities and their families.

“It's like nothing you've ever seen,” said Bishop Rosie S. O'neal, pastor of Koinonia Christian Center Church, which sponsors the annual event.

“We have people that come from other cities, group homes, this is their big day,” she said. “This is like their Disney World.”

The free, four-hour celebration, which this year has the theme “The Best Birthday Party on Earth,” features food, carnival rides and games, music and movies. The fair also offers services including haircuts and massages.

“Our first year going, our family walked in and you would have thought that we were king and queen of a country,” said Evans, who began attending a few years ago with her husband, Chuck, and their daughters, Taylor, 9, and Amelia, 5, who has Down syndrome.

“They just went above and beyond completely out of their way to make it accommodating for everyone, no matter your age, no matter your abilities, no matter your needs,” Evans said. “... It was just over-the-top accommodating.”

Before Koinonia launched the fair, the church had limited experience in accommodating people with special dietary and sensory needs. While Koinonia counts among its members some children and adults with special needs, the fair was not designed as a church event.

“It's not really for our church at all,” O'neal said. “It's designed for anybody that can get here to be able to have their smaller fair, like the state fair, where nobody's staring at them and everybody's sensitive (to them).”

Inclusion for people with disabilities is a biblical concept, she said. In the New Testament book of Luke, Jesus said people who host events should not only invite those who can return the favor. Instead, he instructs, “invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed.”

“There's a sentence that God put in my heart some years ago,” O'neal said, “God never forgets to remember those who remember the forgotten.

“I think it's important that people who deal with something every single, solitary moment of every day, that they know that God has not forgotten them,” she said. “If he has to change the whole agenda and schedule of a church and put that person with needs and their family on the church's mind, then they know he hasn't forgotten.”

A Toys R Us catalog is what first put the needs of people with disabilities on O'neal's mind. She recalls seeing a photo of actress Whoopi Goldberg with a line of toys being marketed for the differently abled.

“When I saw that word, it just kind of stuck out to me, and when I was praying that same evening, clearly I felt the Lord leading us to have a Differently Abled Fun Fair,” she said.

The church embraced the idea, and the first year put together an event for about 150 people. Over the last decade, some 8,000 people have attended the fair, which draws nearly 300 volunteers annually and costs $50,000 to $60,000 a year to produce. It was moved from the church to the convention center last year to have an indoor venue to accommodate a larger attendance.

Tricia Brown, who serves as a caregiver for her sister, Amanda Price, 53, brought her sister to the fair for the first time last year.

“I've never experienced anything on that level,” Brown said. “I was to tears. To see all the happy differently abled people that I had no idea that existed, of every culture, it was mind blowing.

“I love the idea that someone took the time to think outside of themselves to love on individuals who are in my opinion of the purest love,” she said. “It feels like they've been met with the purest form of love that complements theirs.”

Brown, who plans to make the trip from Morrisville to Greenville for this year's event, appreciates the chance to network and to learn about services that are available.

The fair includes information about community programs and agencies such as Special Olympics, the Autism Society and Eastern Carolina Vocational Center. Among other features for caregivers are free massages.

“They always have this special caregivers' spot, and they make it super spa-like (with) soft music,” Evans said. “There's safe place to put your kids and you take some time for yourself. 

“I just love that they realize our job is a little bit harder and never ending and they go out of their way to help not only our kids but to make us feel loved, too.”

Contact Kim Grizzard at kgrizzard@reflector.com and 329-9578.

WANT TO GO?

The Differently Abled Fun Fair will be held from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday at the Greenville Convention Center, 303 S.W. Greenville Blvd. The event is open to those with severe and profound disabilities and their families. Free but donations may be made at Cashapp: $kccpartnership. For more information, visit kccfamily.com.

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