Just because someone is in a wheelchair doesn’t mean they can’t compete in a good old-fashioned cake walk. This Saturday, more than a hundred central peninsula residents turned out to show off their pride and support for their disabled friends and family during the second annual Disability Pride Celebration in Soldotna Creek Park. Organizers Nikki Marcano, from Frontier Community Services, and Maggie Winston, of the Independent Living Center, hosted the event. Winston said that attendance in just the first hour had tripled from the previous year. Winston and Marcano said that a number of local businesses and organizations donated their services for the day and helped make it a success, including Geneva Woods Medical Supplies, Snappy Turtle Photobooths, Consumer Direct, Riverside Assisted Living, The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, Coca Cola, the Peninsula Points on Prevention Coalition, Hope Community Resources and the local Zumba group.
As local band Hot Mess took the stage to play some classic rock ‘n’ roll, kids and adults alike spent the day enjoying games and activities. The priority for the organizers was to make everything as accessible as possible, and volunteers were stationed at each activity to assist anyone who needed a little help. There was a slip-and-slide equipped with inflatable pool toys, a face-painting booth manned by John Stocks of Mad Creations Tattoo Parlor and a dunk tank where people got the chance to soak Frontier’s executive director, Amanda Faulkner.
The day also featured a hot air balloon brought all the way from Valdez, which was grounded due to windy conditions but still gave folks the opportunity to take photos inside the basket.
Not only did people with disabilities get the chance to have fun with the rest of the community, they also had the opportunity to show off their entrepreneurial skills. Eleven-year-old Cece Strongheart spent the day selling the knits she creates for her business, Autistically Artistic. Strongheart is autistic and started knitting hats and scarves back in October. On Saturday, she had a dozen or so of her creations on display. Strongheart learned the craft from her mom, Ann, and uses a loom to make her products.
“She took to it quickly and now she’s knitting all the time,” Ann Strongheart said. “I can hardly get her to put it down.”
Strongheart obtained some guidance in her new business venture from Heidi Lieb-Williams, who is also autistic and has been the owner of Puzzled With Purpose in Anchorage since 2015. Lieb-Williams came down from Anchorage to sell some of her own artwork as well as the crafts of her friends, including paintings, handbags and skirts sewn together from neckties.
When she is not busy running her business, Lieb-Williams travels the country as an advocate and public speaker for the autistic and disabled community. Lieb-Williams also won this year’s Alaska Miss Amazing, a pageant for women and girls with disabilities. At 44 years old, Lieb-Williams said that part of her mission is to normalize the idea of autistic or disabled people being just as much a part of society as everyone else.
“People often associate autism more with children than adults, but we get old, too, and want to contribute,” Lieb-Williams said. “And even if we can only do 80% of what a job requires, we will do that 80% better than anybody.”
Puzzled With Purpose can be found on Facebook and Lieb-Williams said that people can message her there for custom orders. Strongheart’s creations are available online at www.etsy.com/shop/AutisticallyArtistic.