The Coastal Star

Pay It Forward: Boating & Beach Bash gives VIP treatment to those with disabilities

Boating & Beach Bash, which is celebrating its 11th anniversary, has grown in size and scope to serve more than 6,000 special-needs guests. Photo provided

By Amy Woods

Some 6,000 special-needs guests attending the Boating & Beach Bash for People with Disabilities on March 10 will soak up the sounds of two celebrity singers facing challenges of their own.

Rion Paige, a finalist on The X Factor, has a rare condition called arthrogryposis multiplex congenita and was born with shortened arms and hands that face backward. Boca Raton resident Kechi Okwuchi, a finalist on America’s Got Talent, suffered severe burns in a plane crash.

“We’ve got some amazing acts,” said Jay Van Vechten, the event’s director. “Everyone performing has a disability.”

New this year is an open mic for anyone who wants to step up to it.

“This is their most anticipated event of the year,” Van Vechten said of the often-overlooked population. “When they come to us, no one looks at them, no one points at them. It’s really an amazing thing to witness.”

The free event features lunch prepared by chefs from the Royal Palm Yacht & Country Club, 400 feet of tented exhibits offering goods and services for the special-needs community and a Wellness Zone with doctors and nurses.

“A lot of our people live in group homes, and when they go to clinics, they have like three minutes and out the door they go,” Van Vechten said. “This is an opportunity for them to ask questions.”

There also will be a Kids Fun Zone with activities and games, rides with therapy ponies, wheelchair yoga lessons and costumed superheroes.

“They just go crazy with people dancing with them and interacting,” Van Vechten said of the Spider-Man and Superman impersonators. “It’s wonderful to watch.”

Always a highlight of the Bash are trips down the Intracoastal Waterway on private yachts and treks to the beach via mobility mats.

“For many of these people, they’ve never been in the ocean before,” Van Vechten said. “This is a chance for everyone to get to the water’s edge.”

The event runs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Spanish River Park.

The first 1,000 to arrive will receive The Way We Work: Getting To Know the Amazing Human Body, a book by David Macaulay. VIP lanyards are issued to all.

“There’s nothing like this in the nation,” Van Vechten said. “It would be a $200,000 event if we had to pay for everything.” 

If You Go

What: Boating & Beach Bash for People with Disabilities

When: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. March 10

Where: Spanish River Park, 3001 N. Ocean Blvd., Boca Raton

Cost: Free

Information: Call 715-2622 or visit

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