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Center for Independent Living of South Florida CEO Peter O'Connell (lower center) waits in line for food at the Disability Pride Picnic on Oct. 21. (Michele Mardorf/SFNS)
Center for Independent Living of South Florida CEO Peter O'Connell (lower center) waits in line for food at the Disability Pride Picnic on Oct. 21. (Michele Mardorf/SFNS)

Disability Awareness Month celebrated at Margaret Pace Park

The Center for Independent Living of South Florida celebrated Disability Awareness Month with a picnic on Oct. 21 at Margaret Pace Park.

William Gledhill Jr., a coordinator at the center and creator of the Disability Pride Picnic, said have the community enjoy an afternoon filled with food, games and each other’s company.

“Different events have been done throughout the years on what we called ‘Unity Day,’” he said, “but we never held it in October.”

By Valeria Gómez
South Florida News Service
@SFNS_NewsInstagram• Facebook 

Gledhill said he wanted to bring together both new and old members.

“We’re going back to the basics and starting fresh,” he said, who began working with the organization in February.

Peter O’Connell, the organization’s CEO, said the larger goal of the organization is to bring people of like experiences together.

“One of the goals for CILSF and its members is to find solutions for us and what’s best for our situation,” he said. “The best way of finding out is through someone with similar experiences and who understands.”

Benita Crow, a member who joined less than a year ago, said that thanks to a mutual friend with similar disabilities, she was able to find the center. Though she lives about 40 minutes away, she enjoys the welcoming environment. The peer support services provided have also helped her get back on her feet.

“I enjoy it, and I like the people,” she said. “We go on these field trips, and they’re so much fun and informative. I just love it!”

The event also was a donation drive for people who lost or were unable to keep their wheelchairs, canes and walkers due to Hurricane Irma.

“We planned to have the picnic prior to the hurricane,” said O’ Connell, “but even a month after the catastrophe, many people are still in need of their equipment, especially those who had to leave them behind for being either too big or heavy.”

Gledhill said he expected a small number to attend, over 100 people came to enjoy the weather and company. This included people from Camila’s House, a homeless shelter in Miami-Dade that partners with the center in aiding with housing assistance, and HOPE, Inc., an organization that fights housing discrimination.

Gledhill said welcoming and accepting anyone who walks through the doors is one of the organization’s core values.

“What’s important to us as an organization is that if you make it known that you have a disability,” he said. “We want you to know you are heard, you’re accepted and you’re welcomed.”

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