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A Joyful Jubilee

Featured Photo from A Joyful Jubilee

United Cerebral Palsy of Central Florida celebrates the 25th anniversary of its annual gala, with many more years of service in our community to come

Even before Walt Disney World opened its doors in Orlando, the United Cerebral Palsy (UCP) organization was bringing smiles to the faces of local children. UCP of Central Florida was officially launched in 1955 and has been growing exponentially ever since. Demand for its services eventually grew so great, UCP of Central Florida opened four additional campuses, including one in Lake Mary, where children with disabilities can interact and learn much like they would in a traditional school. Now a recognized leader in the larger UCP national community, UCP of Central Florida is celebrating another milestone, the silver jubilee of it’s annual fundraising gala. 

The elegant Evening at the Palace Gala took place on April 7 and was attended by almost 900 business and community leaders, national and local celebrities, and friends of UCP. It was easily the organization’s largest and most successful gala to date. Planning started seven months prior, and with the help of more than 200 volunteers, including some from Disney, the Gala was a magical and memorable night that raised almost $300,000 for support, education, and therapy services. A special Bid to Give fundraiser during the event also raised nearly $50,000, especially for communication devices. Since 1993, the UCP of Central Florida gala has raised more than $5 million for the thousands of children it serves.

Asma Addarrat, UCP of Central Florida’s senior director of development, explains that 91 cents of every dollar donated to UCP goes directly to the services it provides. UCP is especially proud of this low overhead, as the mark for most nonprofits is usually closer to 60-80 percent. 
The Evening at the Palace Gala was hosted by television stars Rachael Harris and RJ Mitte. Guests not only enjoyed a special musical performance from country superstar Jake Owen, but also from some of UCP of Central Florida’s very own rising stars. UCP kids from the Bailes and Pine Hills campuses put on energetic musical performances, and seven-year-old prodigy Abbey played a breathtaking song on the piano.

During the gala, three awards were presented to those who have made a major impact on UCP’s mission. The Jackie Bailes Legacy Award was given to UCP of Central Florida’s Young Executive Committee for its unwavering advocacy and outreach during the last three years. The Jack Holloway Star of Gratitude Award was given to John Kelly and the KPM Franklin engineering firm for its continued help and expertise with all of UCP of Central Florida’s construction and renovation needs. And the Champion for Children Award was given to Bill Sublette, chairman of the Orange County School Board, for his support, collaboration, and leadership. 

While UCP has its roots in serving those with cerebral palsy, one of the most notable evolutions of the organization over the last 25 years is its expansion to serve a broader spectrum of young people with disabilities.

“Our complete approach sees children who have the potential and then completely tailors our services for the individual,” explains JP Soto, UCP of Central Florida’s senior director of marketing and communications. “So it could be a child with a physical disability or a mental disability or a teen mom who has different kinds of struggles – but we don’t give up on them. I think that’s what our identity is becoming – an encompassing community in which we will tailor our services for any child who has the potential and the willingness to engage.”

This idea of inclusion is a core principle at the UCP campus in Lake Mary, where children of all and varied abilities are welcomed and encouraged to learn side by side and from one another. Only two students at the school actually have cerebral palsy, and among the roughly 80 percent of the student population with disabilities, the variety is vast. Students on the autism spectrum, those with Down syndrome, those with spina bifida, and many others are all taught with the same level of care and intentionality.

“That is what makes our therapists and teachers superheroes,” JP says. “There’s such a huge spectrum, and yet they’re ready to dive in. What a teacher in a traditional classroom might consider a distraction, these teachers use as momentum to keep their curriculum going. It’s incredible how they’re able to do that.”

While each regional UCP organization is different, UCP of Central Florida focuses on those with disabilities from birth to age 21, so education plays a central role. At the Lake Mary campus, growing with the students is an important factor. Asma explains that the campus continues to add a grade level each year in the hopes that the school can continue to meet the students’ needs, prepare them for a mainstream classroom, and see them graduate with their peers.

A major priority for the Lake Mary campus, especially given the success of the recent gala’s Bid to Give fundraiser, is technology integration. Most UCP campuses in Central Florida have a 1-to-1 iPad initiative and have seen great success using the device to support traditional curriculum and communication. Some of the Lake Mary school’s existing iPads were purchased with funds raised through the Lake Scary 5K, a fundraiser started by two Lake Mary Preparatory School students in 2012.

“Parents trust us to create a world for their children in which they’re accepted,” says Asma. “And that’s the most important thing: that they can thrive and overcome challenges. We have families who are told that their children are never going to be able to walk or talk, and we see them overcome that all the time.”

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