Wendy Friswell is director of the Twin Palms Center for the Disabled
in Boca Raton. She also volunteers for the Boca Boating and Beach Bash.
Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star
By Chris Felker
Wendy Friswell, director of the Twin Palms Center for the Disabled in Boca Raton, is very clear about why she steps outside her occupational role every year to volunteer for the Boca Boating and Beach Bash. Her mission is to help inject some fun into the lives of her clients and differently-abled people like them.
She does it because “the need is huge,” she said.
The Boca Boating and Beach Bash, marking its fifth anniversary March 16 at Spanish River Park, gets a major boost every year from her energy, says its founder, Jay Van Vechten.
Friswell’s daughter, a junior at Florida Atlantic University, recently turned 21 but, Van Vechten said, “you’d swear Wendy (who is 52) was in her 20s.”
Participants last year might have seen her at the “Kids Fun Zone” wearing a blue shirt and a big grin.
Friswell said she loves working with the children and also puts time into recruiting supporters, donors and volunteers for the Bash, which has doubled in size each year from about 350 participants in 2009 to almost 4,500 last year.
She got involved by joining Boca Raton’s advisory board for people with disabilities, though the city has ceased sponsoring the event.
“So we as private citizens are doing this, and I felt the need to help in every way I can.”
Friswell, who lives with her husband, David, and children in Loggers Run, knows through more than just her job the challenges that those with disabled family members face. They’re personal for her, as well, because her 17-year-old-son Ryan and daughter Michelle have special needs.
“A lot of people assume that because you have a child with a deficit, then you get involved as a result of that; but for me it was the other way around. You get involved with things because of your work and your belief and your willingness to give back. I think the universe lighted up — that they know you can handle it, and you’re strong enough, so therefore here it is. But I never allow my kids to live up to what a diagnosis said,” Friswell said.
Her motivation runs deep.
“The beautiful thing is, I love to talk up their abilities, because I feel I’m blessed with two amazing kids, no matter what their deficits are. Their abilities are almost like a template of what possibilities can be if you do it right. If you put everything in — the tutoring, the time, the parenting, the support system, the encouragement, the ‘Yes you can’ — I know 100 percent you can get the return. And I feel like I’m the poster parent for that.”
Born in Trinidad, she immigrated to the United States at 15, graduated from a Philadelphia high school and attended Temple University as an undergrad, then did master’s studies at Florida International University, worked in Miami-Dade for 10 years and then moved to Boca Raton in 1995.
“I’ve always been involved in the community wherever I’ve lived because I always felt I need to give back to my community,” she said.
Friswell said Twin Palms is “a humble little center, very nurturing, loving and small, which allows students to make friends, be social, get recreation and education. And it’s from 8 to 4, so it gave the caregivers an opportunity to have a life, and work.”
It was founded in 1968 by the Soroptomists Society International’s Boca Raton chapter and parents whose special-needs children had aged out of the school system.
The Boating and Beach Bash benefits the Wounded Warriors In Action Foundation and welcomes all differently-abled people, those who live with any disabilities, Purple Heart recipients and the families and caregivers of all of them.
As for the yacht owners, mainly from the Royal Palm Yacht & Country Club, who take many Boca Boating and Beach Bash participants sailing out on the Intracoastal, Friswell said: “It’s truly magical in my eyes to see why they get involved and the purpose behind it. It’s not necessarily that they have a relative; they get involved because they have a caring heart.”
IF YOU GO
Fifth Annual Boca Boating and Beach Bash
Sponsored by corporate donations and community volunteers, this is a free ‘fun day’ for people with physical and/or intellectual challenges, their families and caregivers, and Purple Heart recipients.
When: 10 a.m.-3 p.m. March 16
Where: Spanish River Park, 3939 N. Ocean Blvd., Boca Raton
Cost: Free admission, open to public
Information: Call 715-2622 or see www.boatingbeachbash.com