The Winter Park-based nonprofit will hold its annual fundraiser at Aloma Bowl on Sunday, Oct. 21.
A feeling of independence is something some families never thought was possible for their children. They never thought they would see their child perform on a theatrical stage, head off to school without a meltdown or go to a vocational job site.
One out of every 68 families in the United States has a child facing autism or another disability. And that’s the exact demographic to which one local nonprofit is extending a helping hand.
Winter Park-based nonprofit OCA (Opportunity, Community, Ability) is gearing up for its fifth annual Bowl-a-Thon, which will run from 12:30 to 4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 21, at Aloma Bowl.
The annual event is the largest fundraiser each year for OCA and gives families the chance to form teams of six to help raise funds while local businesses can become sponsors. The event will include raffles, a spin-the-wheel game for prizes and, of course, plenty of bowling.
“The whole purpose of the Bowl-a-Thon is to help offset costs for our programing,” OCA Executive Director Silvia Haas said. “We service children and adults with autism and other disabilities here in the Greater Orlando area, and so 92 cents to every dollar that is donated to OCA goes directly right back into our programming.”
Every program OCA offers is also on a scholarship basis, because the organization looks to provide affordable programing for families. The nonprofit — now in its ninth year — has three different branches of programming: therapy, school-age and adult/vocational.
The therapy program offers applied behavior analysis therapy, social skills training, respite — which gives childcare so that families can go out on dates or vacations — and early-intervention clinics, which work with children as young as 18 months to provide skills they need to go into school-age programing.
The second area of programming is open to youth up to age 21 and offers recreation programs year-round. There’s also Special Olympics training, a Running Man Theatre Company, and dance and music therapy.
Adult/vocational programs give individuals age 22 and up an opportunity to continue working on their life or vocational skills.
OCA has come a long way since its start as a nonprofit in August 2009. The organization started with 19 families under its watch, and today serves more than 400 families.
“The need for age-appropriate programing for individuals with special needs is just so imperative, and being able to give different experiences to them helps them gain these skill sets to help them become more independent,” Haas said. “That’s what we strive for day in and day out at OCA. For us it’s about saying, ‘What more can we give them so that they can continue to be more successful in everything that they’re trying to go after?’ That’s really important to us.”
Haas said attendees of the upcoming Bowl-a-Thon can expect to have a great time at the event. Awards will be given to the teams with the most raised funds, best costumes and most spirited.
“The goal is to sell out Aloma Bowl, which is 32 lanes,” Haas said. “Each of the teams come in, and it’s a lot of fun. Each team will have pizza, soda and just the camaraderie. The thing we love most about the bowling event is it’s just a family-oriented event.
“Come in and get ready to have a great time,” she said. “Get ready to meet new friends. Get ready to be accepted and appreciated for wanting to be a part of our community — ultimately that’s all we want. Everybody wants to be accepted and understood for who they are and what they can bring to the community.”