By HELEN FIELDING Staff writer, The Oil City Derrick, November 21, 2022
Those who stopped in at the fall block party at the Venango County Human Services training center in Franklin on Saturday were greeted by a cheerful gathering during the first-ever event in which attendees learned more about people with intellectual disabilities and autism.
Joann Rhoades, who organized the block party along with Megan Irwin and Mary Davis, immediately greeted visitors with a big smile when they walked into the party and invited them to fill out a raffle ticket for the basket raffle.
Rhoades, Irwin and Davis are three women with disabilities who are part of a group called A Reach Out to Community (AROC). The group’s members wanted to educate the community about people with intellectual disabilities and autism and invite the community to share in their interests.
The three friends have been working for the last several months with Steve Campbell, the Venango County Human Services intellectual disability and autism system manager, and others to plan the event.
“They really came up with the whole idea,” Campbell said of the three women, and that Irwin was the one who got in touch with disc jockey Phil Close, who did the event for free.
“She knows more people than I do, and I work for the county,” Campbell said. “I thought I knew a lot of people!”
Around 2 p.m., about 50 people of various ages were at the party, which ran from 1 to 4 p.m.
Irwin and Davis shared their talent for creating rubber-band bracelets with party attendees. Davis said there were a “a lot of people” who had come to learn.
“Very nice, you did a good job,” she then told Nancy Elslager, who attended the event with United Community Independence Program, as she helped her put on her bracelet.
In addition to bracelet-making and the raffle, the event featured bubble painting, snacks, crafts like foam crowns, cookie decorating, and spontaneous dance circles that broke out from time to time to music.
People also sat around the tables to talk, laugh and just visit.
Service providers that included PPC Violence Free Network, St. Michael’s Harbor, and Self-Advocates United as 1 had tables set up to let attendees know what they offer, as well.
Campbell said he wanted to encourage more community members to bring their kids to events like the block party.
“I hope it’s a kickoff event,” he said. “And I hope more and more of the community come” to future block parties.