Wild West Fall Fest raises awareness for disabilities
TNE Editor
/ Categories: Feature, Local

Wild West Fall Fest raises awareness for disabilities

Published 10/12/17

Jessica Sudbeck

TNE Writer

This fall My Friends & Me will present its fifth annual Wild West Fall Fest. This free festival is aimed toward immersing the public into the world of those with disabilities. There will be volunteers and visitors who use wheelchairs or mobility devices, amputees, adults and children with special needs and many who are visually impaired.

There is a lot the community can learn and experience at the festival this year, including several thought-provoking activities and challenges to help able-bodied people peer into the world of the disabled. Among these are a wheelchair obstacle course and a blind goggle challenge. There will also be many sensory activities and carnival-style games that children can enjoy. Families can have an Old West photograph made, and children who visit the Little Library & Storytime booth can take a free book home. 

This year, NSU’s education department partnered with My Friends & Me and helped collect books for the Little Library & Storytime booth for the first time.

“We have received at least a couple hundred books so far,” said Peggy Kaney, retired NSU librarian who is running the book drive.  “We will give away somewhere in the neighborhood of 300 books.  I am a retired librarian, so I just have a heart for getting kids connected with books. That is what I did for a lot of years, so it just seems like a very natural place to make that connection.  I have heard from families who come back later who we interacted with that said the book they got on that day has a special spot on their bookshelf.” 

Nicki Scott has run the Wild West Festival since the beginning.

“When my autistic son was 5 we found out that our new baby girl would likely be born with Down syndrome,” said Scott. “Just 40 years ago, my children would have been institutionalized. This idea of inclusion is still new and awkward. We mean to eliminate the awkwardness through education and fun at our events. It is also a great time for parents to network and feel less isolated by their child's individual needs.  There are so many ways to change our corner of the world for our kids. Fun times and making memories with every family in town seems like a perfect way to eliminate stereotypes associated with disabilities, and best of all for free.”

There will be about 30 repeat volunteer groups present and approximately 15 new groups involved. There will also be several sponsors.  Peggy Kaney said she was first inspired to volunteer with the festival and start the book drive because her son Adam Kaney, Tahlequah junior, was active at that point with a campus group that focused on disability awareness.

“I have been a part of the Wild West Fall Festival since it got started,” said Adam Kaney. “The main thing I have been doing each year is coordinating the wheelchair obstacle course. I also have a physical disability, so as of a couple years ago, I was the keynote speaker. I love the fact that the festival is a place for families with special needs to go to have a good time and a place where other people can go to learn about what it is like living with these conditions.  One thing I like to say when talking about these kinds of things is while I may be disabled, everyone else is temporarily-abled. The disabled are both the largest minority group in the US and it is also the only group that anyone can enter at any time.”

Scott said she organized a board with other people who have loved ones with disabilities to form a federally recognized 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization three years after the first Wild West Fall Fest.

“We now host events that promote inclusion and educate visitors,” said Scott. “Some are fundraisers for various projects benefiting children with disability in Cherokee County. But the Wild West Fest is completely free so no family has an excuse to skip it.”

The Wild West Fall Fest is from 2-4:30 p.m. on Oct. 14 at Norris Park.

For more information, visit the My Friends & Me Facebook page or call Scott at 918-316-7850.

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