Abilities Carnival Educates and Entertain

That Culver City knows how to put on a heartfelt, fun, and productive celebration in honor of Disability Awareness Month was evident to those attending its 16th annual free Abilities Carnival and Resource Fair Sunday afternoon, Oct. 20 at the Culver City Senior Center, an event sponsored by the Culver City Exchange Club, Culver City Senior Citizens Association, Inc., and Culver City Neighborhood Girl Scouts. Acceptance, assistance and inclusion were the order of the day.

"The purpose of the carnival is to celebrate people of all ability levels and their families," said Asia Yates, the city's Recreation and Community Services Coordinator. "The Culver City Disability Advisory Committee and Culver City Parks and Recreation now do most of the logistics. The carnival was mostly funded by the Culver City Exchange Club, and donations were received from JoyMode Games, Trader Joe's, Bart's Carts, and Costco."

She explained that the idea for the initial carnival grew out of two Girl Scout troops, Cindy Zisner's 607 and Debbie Cahill's 583.

"The year prior to the first carnival they had done a disability awareness program for all Culver City Girl Scouts and were looking for a new way to commemorate Disability Awareness Month," Yates said. "The original inspiration was a Girl Scout's younger sister with disabilities who had been the troop mascot and the children that troop 607 encountered helping with Challenger Baseball. They wanted a carnival that would have games that were easier for the kids that they knew would have a hard time with the school Halloween carnivals. The original carnival games were made with cardboard and supplies from the 99 Cent Store. The Culver City Exchange Club volunteered to supply food. It was held in Lindberg Park the first few years."

She added that "we have had several Girl Scouts with disabilities supervise games, including the young lady who was a troop mascot as a Brownie, and started helping when she became a Cadette, Now Girl Scouts who weren't even born when this idea was conceived are running the games. This is a fully inclusive event for attendees and volunteers."

Entertainment was provided by Jazz Hands for Autism, Hula Dancers from Keali'I O Nālani, and Lionel with Reggae for Children. There were many carnival games plus several activities in the crafts area, including spin art, coloring, edible chocolate creation, and magic scratch color art.

There was a photo booth with fun props, and there was an ample menu of hot dogs, hamburgers, chips, pizza, pink lemonade, sugar-free Crystal Light, water, popcorn, and even cotton candy to carry out that carnival theme.

Valuable information was available from West Basin Municipal Water District, Autism Works Now, Best Buddies California, Culver City Fire Department, Culver City Police Department, Culver City Advance Planning Team Raimi + Associates, Department of Mental Health, Disability Community Resource Center, EC Kids, Leaps n Boundz Inc., Partners For Pediatric Vision, Southern California Hospital of Culver City, Westside Family Resource and Empowerment Center, Westside Special Olympics, Work4Good, and United Cerebral Palsy of Los Angeles. Onsite coordinators for the resource providers were Yates, Carmen Ibarra and Dr. Janet Cameron Hoult.

"The Abilities Carnival and Resource Fair began as a Kids Carnival and has become an event for all disabled Culver City residents, no matter their ages," Hoult said. "In addition, all disabilities are recognized and it is wonderful to see a growing emphasis on recognizing and encouraging creativity among the disabled."

In conjunction with Disability Awareness Month, she noted that three commendations were awarded by the city, one to an organization (Theatre by the Blind), one to an individual (Marcy Sookne), and one to the Disability Advisory Committee.

Theatre by the Blind is an amazing group I recently wrote about (https://www.culvercityobserver.com/story/2019/09/26/arts-and-entertainment/an-eye-opening-experience/8482.html). It is the only theatre troupe in the country composed entirely of blind actors that also creates and performs original theatrical works, providing participants with a constructive and creative forum to confront their challenges while informing the public, raising awareness, and changing perceptions about the capabilities of the blind. On October 6th it presented a special performance for the community at Culver City High School's Robert Frost Auditorium, to tie into Disability Awareness Month.

Sookne is a mom whose youngest daughter, Daniela, was the little sister with disabilities who helped inspire the Girl Scout troop to create a disability-friendly carnival. Sadly, Daniela died 11 years ago but her legacy happily lives on as was apparent in the smiling faces of those enjoying this event.

"I became a liaison with the Disability Awareness Committee several years ago," Sookne explained, adding that "some of the props here were done 17 years ago! I helped with supervision, but it was always a team effort. I also helped train the Girl Scouts on how to properly interact with those who are disabled, and not to judge." Additionally, she was instrumental in creating a film series that helped educate the community on the abilities of the disabled.

Her other two daughters, Keren and Alisa, were also busy helping out at the carnival. "And my husband's on phone duty for the Girl Scouts!" she interjected. Alisa, who was running the popular photo booth, said, "It's nice to see people coming back year after year. When I get big smiles, that's my favorite part of the day."

I caught up with another mom, Marilyn Hess, who sported a colorful and beguiling unicorn wig. Hess, a longtime and very active member of the senior center, was there with her husband, Bob, and daughter, Audrey.

"My daughter is on the spectrum," she explained, "but she certainly knows technology and has her own business where she teaches people one-on-one how to operate desktop computers, laptops, and other devices. I don't think of people as disabled but as differently-abled. Everybody has their strengths. I like to focus on that."

Circling back to Hoult, who is Culver City's Honorary Artist Laureate for Poetry as well as a member of the Disability Advisory Committee, this dedicated community member also teaches a Word Painting with Poetry class at the senior center and had prepared a triptych of poems her students had offered for this event. She shared that one of the poets, Frances Talbott-White, penned a haiku, "CREATIVITY/Can never be stifled by/DISABILITY," that was on the bookmarks handed out to carnival participants.

"In my poem, 'Speaking Up for the Disabled,'" she said, "I close by saying, 'So thank you Culver City/For our Disability Advisory Committee/That speaks up for us and keeps us in the groove...!' We are fortunate to have a DAC that focuses on the needs of our disabled citizens."

Fortunate indeed, as we are all threads in the diverse tapestry comprising Culver City, and as I wandered around, savoring the inspiring flavor of this event, I was reminded of a quote by Scott Hamilton that I've always liked: "The only disability in life is a bad attitude." And positivity was definitely in full play at this thoroughly enjoyable carnival.

For further information, contact Asia Yates at (310) 253-6729 or asia.yates@culvercity.org.


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