The Be a Friend Festival took place on Friday, Oct. 14. The stated purpose of the event was to, “create awareness and teach the value of acceptance and friendships with people of different cultures, religions, ethnicities and disabilities.”
At the event, there were many different activities such as bounce houses, face painting and a puppet show. Not only was the event full of various activities, it also featured around 20 different educational booths. Children could participate in different games and activities to win prizes while also learning about kindness, acceptance and respect.
One booth featured the Sunshine Ambassadors, an organization that works to “enrich the lives of individuals with disabilities through dance.” Executive Director, Melanie O’Dowd, spoke about the importance of events like these and said, “it is very important for children with disabilities to be seen as individuals and capable citizens.” She continued and stated, “we want children to see that these kids are doing great even though they have a disability.”
The festival was diverse with children of all ages, backgrounds, races and ethnicities in attendance. Many different religious organizations were also present such as Joni and Friends, which is a Christian organization that works to equip churches worldwide with the resources to reach individuals with disabilities. Jen McNally, of Joni and Friends, stressed the importance of this event and said, “I think it is important to bring communities together and to find out about more resources that are out there in Knoxville.”
This event also featured varied Knoxville businesses like Regions Bank. Joel Simmons from Regions, who is also on the board of directors of the Disabilities Resource Center, explained the origins of the Be a Friend Festival.
“The idea came from seeing how much bullying is going on in our country. If you turn on the TV you see bullying, whether that’s cyberbullying or on the playground.” He continued stating, “This event isn’t just about kids with disabilities, it is about all kids. The earlier we can talk to these kids the better.”
Chris Parrott, another representative from Regions Bank, summed up the event and stated, “If we can reach these kids at a young age and let them know that this is not how you treat people and promote kindness and respect, then hopefully we can eradicate bullying for everyone.”
Featured Image by Gabrielle Harmon
Edited by Katy Hill