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Coast Nonprofit Helps Kids and Adults with Disabilities

Coast Nonprofit Helps Kids and Adults with Disabilities

One out of eight people has a disability, and this includes many kids. Often, those affected are unable to get proper medical care. Many of these families live far below the poverty line. The coastal organization Disability Connection strives to help.

The charity’s mission is to create a community to give social support, tear down barriers, and foster understanding for people with disabilities. 

Disability Connection Executive Director Janie O’Keefe discussed the ways in which the charity helps people find services such as shelter, food or employment.

“We help four to five people every day — over 2,000 a year — with their special needs,” O’Keefe said. “Our many activities, such as our annual Arbor Day Run/Walk/Roll for Disability Awareness, brings in hundreds of participants. It’s a fun day of healthy exercise where we come together with hundreds of members from the Gulf Coast Running Club and over a hundred local people with disabilities.”

Another annual event is the Art Ability Fair, wherein over 1,000 people help 650 children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities to create multimedia art. With the aid of local museums such as Lynn Meadows, Mary C. O’Keefe Cultural Center, Ohr O’Keefe, and Walter Anderson, children get to create pottery, costumes, jewelry and paintings. The Community Resource Fair networks nonprofit organizations and government agencies in an informational seminar for those with disabilities, along with veterans, seniors and families.

“One of my favorite achievements are the two local playgrounds we created,” O’Keefe said. “The first one, in north Gulfport, is called the Disability Connection Community Playground. The second, Little Children’s Park in Ocean Springs, has playground equipment specifically designed for those with disabilities, including play equipment for a wheelchair.”

The organization started out in 2002 as a media production company. Forty-six of their films are featured on their website, Disabilityconnection.org. A useful feature of the website is its Mississippi Coast Community Resource Guide, which lists over 100 organizations available for those with disabilities who are in need. 

Another program is the downloadable TRACK guide. This 100-page guide tells families of children with disabilities how to get resources to help the child eventually become independent.

“Disability Connection developed a program called Read-Up,” O’Keefe reported. “Funded by the MS Council on Developmental Disabilities, this weekly book club assists 60 adults with intellectual disabilities to improve their reading. Another of our programs helps find employment for those with mental disabilities. We’ve placed them in grocery stores, hardware companies, fast food, and even with the Armed Services.”

“We are here to help people who have fallen through the cracks and are in a desperate situation,” O’Keefe summarized.

A private nonprofit organization, Disability Connection works entirely from grants and donations. It encourages those interested in helping — or seeking help — to check out the website at Disabilityconnection.org, send email to office@Disabilityconnection.org, or call (228)604-4020.

Philip L. Levin, MD is a Coast-based physician and writer. He is the author of numerous award-winning stories and poems, many nonfiction articles, and eight published books, including two children’s books.

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