The Boating & Beach Bash for People with Disabilities was first imagined in 2008 by members of the City of Boca Raton’s Advisory Board for People with Disabilities. The City agreed to sponsor the event, with members of the Advisory Board helping City employees host it.
The 1st Bash
The first Bash in March of 2009 attracted 350 participants and had three boats that gave rides to all attendees. A BBQ lunch was served and a live band composed of musicians with disabilities rocked the park.
The 2nd Bash
The second Bash in March of 2010 attracted 700 participants and had 7 boats. The event was enhanced by volunteers from the Coast Guard and Boca Raton High School’s Junior Navy ROTC Cadets.
The 3rd Bash
The third Bash in March of 2011 attracted 2,200 guests and featured 25 yachts. That year the Bash achieved the status of being the largest, free, fun-day ever staged in the United States for people with special needs, their families and caregivers. The event also received global media attention as the press dubbed it, “The Miracle on the Intracoastal.” A new exhibitor zone was added, where leading nonprofit organizations and local businesses showcased goods and services specifically for the special needs community.
The entire project nearly collapsed in late 2011, when the City had to withdraw its funding for the event because the Bash’s rapid growth had made it too expensive and labor intensive for the City to manage. Fortunately the City agreed to allow the Bash to continue to utilize the park for free and to enjoy the benefit of in-kind services, like sanitation, security and lifeguards. It then relinquished the Bash to Jay Van Vechten, one of its original creators, who vowed to keep the event alive.
Jay assembled a group of dedicated volunteers and together they reimagined the event on a much grander and more inclusive scale, reaching beyond the boundaries of Boca Raton. The freshly minted Bash would now welcome anyone with a disability in South Florida, along with their families and caregivers.
The 4th Bash
In 2012, the all-volunteer organizing committee doubled the size of the Bash, drawing close to 4,500 attendees, assisted by 500 volunteers, and provided boat rides aboard 24 yachts. In this its 4th year, the event was named: “BEST COMMUNITY SERVICE PROGRAM IN SOUTH FLORIDA,” a prestigious award it has now won four times from the Gold Coast PR Council.
5th, 6th, 7th and 8th Bash events
The 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th Bash events continued to grow drawing thousands of guests.
Additionally, leading singers and musicians from across the State volunteered to entertain, while DJ’s with disabilities inspired guests with the latest dance music. Throughout the park miniature therapy ponies and service dogs mixed and mingled with guests to the delight of everyone.
Ronald McDonald’s magic tricks cheered young and old alike, while a dozen costumed action heroes, including Spiderman, Captain America, Batman and Superman kept everyone laughing and entertained throughout the day.
Rehabilitation professionals from Pinecrest Rehabilitation Hospital at the Delray Medical Center, along with graduating seniors from Nova University’s Rehabilitation Program, began leading guests in low impact sports, while on the beach professional kite flyers thrilled attendees with high flying aerobatic stunts.
Another popular feature added in recent years is a Body Mind & Spirit Center, where various forms of yoga, breathing and meditation techniques are shared by a team of trained professionals.
Finally, there’s a Fun Zone that offers arts and crafts workshops and numerous interactive games that provide wholesome, accessible activities for the entire family.
It is a magical day for everyone!
After four years of lobbying the powers that be, the Bash was delighted to add mobility mats to our beach offerings, providing full access to anyone with mobility issues, even those in wheelchairs. Now guests can traverse the sand and even have a dip in the ocean, thanks to fully immersible, floating chairs awaiting them at water’s edge. The Bash now owns a full set of state of the art Mobi Mats, thanks to a county grant that allowed us to supplement those mats owned by the City of Boca Raton. It is a win/win for everyone.
The 9th and 10th Bash Events
In the 9th year close to 5,000 guests attended the Bash. They came from as far away as California, Georgia, Illinois, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York and Washington DC. A mother and son journeyed all the way from Puglia, Italy to join us. The Bash also welcomed the Broadway star of ANNIE, Andrea McArdle, singing: “TOMORROW,” her signature hit song from the show. Additionally singer Mason Pace and dozens of costumed Super Heroes led everyone in a rousing rendition of “We Are The World.” One of the biggest hits of the 2017 Bash was a miniature train called the Catabella Express. With five cars, each capable of holding up to four people, the accessible train allows those in wheelchairs to roll aboard and go for a fun ride throughout the park.
In the 10th year, Bash participants celebrated the event’s 10th Anniversary, with nearly 6,000 guests on hand to welcome Ketchi Okwuchi, finalist from the popular TV show, “America’s Got Talent.” Ms. Okwuchi, who survived a fiery plane crash has endured over 100 surgeries since her accident. But her beautiful voice and extraordinary spirit inspired all who heard her and got to meet her that day. Also on hand were the 20 members of Miami’s Lighthouse for the Blind Gospel Choir, raising their voices to the heavens in thanks for the blessings we all have, that in spite of our challenges we are all one in the eyes of God.