By Fouad Egbaria – August 15, 2014
About 400 people gathered to support the Northbrook-based North Suburban Special Recreation Association at its fifth annual NSSRA Summer Bash on Aug. 13.
The celebration took place at the verdant Techny Prairie Park and Fields in Northbrook and recognized individuals with disabilities.
And celebrate they did — to the sounds of music, the smell of burgers and char dogs and the warmth of good company. The party kicked off at 6 p.m. and ran on until 8:30 p.m., bringing in people from all around the northern suburbs.
“We targeted the Wednesday before school starts as our annual Summer Bash night,” said NSSRA Executive Director Craig Culp. “[It’s] a free event where anybody and anybody connected to NSSRA can come together for music and food and the community and celebrating. All ages, all abilities — just a fun non-directed night to celebrate one another and everything that NSSRA and its participants do.
“It’s just to say, ‘You know what, everybody that we serve is worthy of being celebrated.’”
When the Summer Bash started four years ago, Culp said he would have been happy with 200 or 250 participants; but about 315 people signed up. This year’s numbers are almost double Culp’s initial expectations. This year, State Rep. Elaine Nekritz — also Northbrook resident — arrived at the party to show her support.
NSSRA, founded in 1970, facilitates recreational programs and services for children and adults with disabilities through a large-scale partnership with 10 park districts, two cities and one village. Participants come from as far north as Lake Bluff all the way south to Wilmette, forming a north suburban enclave of welcoming.
Randi Gillespie, of Northbrook, and her children — Maddy, 9, who participates in the nonprofit’s programs, and Liam, 7 — particularly enjoyed running down Techny Prairie’s massive hill at the party.
“This is our third year attending the Summer Bash, and every year it just gets more fun and more exciting,” Randi Gillespie said. “The kids actually look forward to it. … They get to meet some new people and see old friends and see people who have helped them out throughout their time within the programs.”
Gillespie, like many at the event, expressed her gratitude for the organization’s programs.
“It just does wonders for families such as ours,” she said. “This was certainly one of the reasons we moved from Chicago four years ago to the ‘burbs. They just provide an array of services we couldn’t get while living in the city. It’s inclusive, it’s fun, it’s entertaining and they’re educational. The staff is ridiculously committed fabulously fun. They’re like part of our extended family.”
The party cruised along to the sounds of a live band, Libido Funk Circus, and revellers uninhibitedly showed their dance moves near the stage.
Sean Breen, 40, of Glenview — sporting a white “I Heart NSSRA” T-shirt — spent much of his time in front of the stage with the dancing crowd. His parents, Mary and John, moved to Glenview 29 years ago for similar reasons as Gillespie: the school system. But they didn’t realize there was so much more for their son.
“We had no idea there was such a wonderful special recreation association,” John Breen said. “[Every season] of the year, Sean has been involved with a variety of activities. He’s enjoyed all of them.”
On Saturdays, Sean begins a busy schedule at 9 a.m. that includes bowling, cardio exercise and drama classes, of which Sean is particularly fond.
For many of the attendees, the event was about celebrating new feats. For example, Eric Emde, 21, of Northbrook, said he learned how to swim this past year through the program and has made quite a few new friends from Glenview, too.
“Honestly, there aren’t a ton of free events [of this] caliber. This doesn’t happen all the time,” Culp said about the Summer Bash. “It’s just really cool to have this part of our community celebrated and recognized, and just to have a little party for them.”