RICHMOND, Va. -- Many families say resources for people who are differently-abled vanished during the pandemic, putting them in a tight spot. Now, one Richmond non-profit is hoping to make a positive change with a special event.
If you take a look around Park 365 in Richmond, you can't miss smiling faces, laughter, and authentic joy.
"It's a place where we can come together," said Eleanor Jones, "It's a safe place."
Jones has two wheelchaired sisters and loves bringing them to the park. She said they can just belong there without judgment.
"It's so easy for those with disabilities to be isolated, to not be included, to feel othered, and inclusion is key," Jones said. "So there's a little bit less of that 'shh don't talk, don't point, don't stare at the girls in the wheelchair.'"
Park 365 isn't just any playground. Soar 365, a non-profit that serves those who are differently-abled, designed the park to accommodate people of all abilities and all ages.
"That's where you get to not only be around your peers, but you get to go out into the community and learn things and continue to grow and blossom as an individual," Jones explained.
But she said those structured, supportive experiences disappeared during the pandemic. When COVID-19 hit, many of the resources that she and her sisters relied on were paused. It stunted socialization and learning opportunities while forcing caregivers to fill the gaps.
"You're even like 10 steps farther back," Jones said.
And that's where SummerFest comes in.
"The non-profit community is back, and we are ready to serve everybody," said Caroline Snell with Soar 365.
Snell said the annual event is returning to Park 365 Thursday with the goal of reconnecting families to assistance and support.
"There was so much of a call for other resources, what's around that we can do and that can help us," said Andrea Siebentritt with Soar 365 about what inspired the theme of this year's festival.
She and Snell said families can check out a variety of non-profit organizations that will be at the event including Autism Society of Central Virginia, Healing Sounds, and Moms in Motion.
"Richmond has an amazing non-profit community," said Snell. "When we all come together, we really do all make a difference."
More than that, families can enjoy live music, food trucks, beverages, and cotton candy.
Jones said she can't wait for her and her sisters to attend.
"To do fun activities, to all be together to create that sense of community that all people are welcomed into, it's just going to be amazing," she said.
SummerFest is happening at Park 365 on Saunders Avenue Thursday from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Admission is free and guests are encouraged to register in advance here.