Friday, February 23, 2018
News Roundup

Tampa nonprofit prepares for annual FAIR for people with disabilities

The little boy sits on a fire-engine red motorcycle, envisioning himself on an open road, the wind blowing across his bare head and taking away all his cares.

Only his smile, big and affectionate even without his two front teeth, shines brighter than the motorcycle.

It's these smiles that fuel YES! of America United founder Becki Forsell and the members of her tireless nonprofit. For the fifth consecutive year, they will stage the FAIR — the Family Abilities Information Rally — on Oct. 6, eager to spread joy to more faces while showing the world that people with disabilities also need to have fun.

"At the FAIR everybody is smiling," Forsell said. "No one looks at someone else and says, 'What is that?' Everyone there understands disabilities or is learning to understand. There's just so much joy, so many smiles."

Since 2008, the FAIR has grown to draw more than 1,000 people and this year, a record 200 vendors — more than double the number it attracted in 2011 at the All People's Life Center on 6105 Sligh Ave. They will come from all around the state, including Clearwater, Pinellas Park, New Port Richey, Lakeland, Bradenton, Sarasota, Gainesville and Tallahassee.

You can get a hearing test and possibly qualify for a free telephone. Learn about Braille and sign language in demonstrations.

Yet it's so more than an opportunity for people to learn about programs, products and services.

It's games and it's live entertainment. It's a half-mile hayride, a petting zoo and a display from the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.

It's mascots, bounce houses and a visit from Santa. It's wheelchair sports, Gasparilla pirates, food, door prizes and a silent auction that includes dinner and movie with Jay Forry, a blind movie critic who is a story unto himself.

In a way, Forry represents the message Forsell strives to deliver. Forsell lost her sight in 1996 because of surgical complications but strives to help society understand that people with disabilities are just people, capable and needing to do what every other person does — including go to the movies even if they can't see.

YES! members will sport T-shirts with an important message: I vote. I partner. I am a friend. I educate. I give back. I belong. I advocate. I will prevail. I love YES!

"We're people who need accommodations to give us equality," Forsell said. "But we know that with equality comes rights and responsibilities. We want to give back, just like anyone else. We want people to see that we're taxpayers, just like anyone else. We're not just takers, we're givers."

Forsell founded the nonprofit 10 years ago and continues to seek new ways to broaden the mission, but the FAIR represents the cornerstone of the group's efforts, and she's quick to credit the many volunteers who have helped her put it together.

This is the sixth column in 10 years I've written about YES! and Forsell and frankly, I'm just getting started. Her contagious spirit always proves irresistible and a mission inspires.

"Most events for people with disabilities involves lecturing," Forsell said. "We don't lecture. People who come to the FAIR are enriched, educated and self-empowered. They leave with a smile on their face. If I don't change their lives, give them some dreams, some feeling of success, I've failed."

Forsell says she will never fail as long as she has the support of YES! and the community. It's up to us to make sure that never happens.

That's all I'm saying.

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