For Barbara Hobbs, raising awareness about adults with special needs is a deeply personal issue.
Hobbs serves as the voice of the Feb. 1 Super Tailgate for Charity fundraiser for Sunrise Community, a nonprofit organization that provides support for adults with disabilities. She says her involvement has helped define her true purpose in life.
Hobbs came to know Sunrise two years ago. While going through a divorce, the full-time mother of four made a things-to-do list and "Taking care of her family" topped the list.
In 2012, Hobbs, 52, learned a distant family member living nearby needed help.
"I went to Lakeland, where my niece Kris was living, and found her in a terrible situation," Hobbs said. Kris, mentally disabled, had been abandoned and was living in abysmal conditions.
Desperate for a solution, Hobbs kept her faith that she would find help for her niece in the community.
"And that's when I found this incredible angel, Ava Napoleon," Hobbs said.
Hobbs said Napoleon, the director of communications and development at Sunrise Community, did everything she could to help with her niece.
"Ava shared all of her knowledge and reached out to help me with Kris," Hobbs explained. "In the end, we had her functioning enough so that she didn't have to be in a group home. She could live independently."
After Hobbs saw firsthand what Sunrise Community could do to help one person, it forever changed her.
Napoleon said Sunrise was so impressed with Kris that an administrative job was created for her.
"Kris has really blossomed," Hobbs said.
Hobbs said her niece had worked part time before, but employers never treated Kris with respect and dignity.
"All of these things we take for granted, Kris is finally experiencing for the first time," she said. "They celebrated her birthday at work. That's never happened to her in her 39 years."
Napoleon and Hobbs are hopeful that the tailgate charity event will make the public more aware of Sunrise and that the proceeds from the fundraiser will help supplement the limited state funding the nonprofit receives. The event at TPepin's Hospitality Centre, 4121 N 50th St., Tampa, will feature food, cocktails and entertainment from Bobby G Summers.
They would like to see the money used for day training programs, furnishings, outside activities such as visits to Lowry Park Zoo or Disney World and replacement of the fitness equipment with pieces more suitable for people with disabilities.
Hobbs, who hopes that the fundraiser will become an annual event, sees the challenges in competing with other children's causes.
"I hope the community recognizes that children with special needs grow up to be adults."
For more information about the Super Tailgate for Charity, email [email protected] or call (813) 285-2051.