Beach Boys music from the 1960s conjures memories of playing in the sand, surf and sun.
At the long-anticipated 2010 version of April Foolies Saturday at the Clayton Center for the Arts, a very special group will be “channeling” that Southern California vibe.
The Gate Crashers are a special act at April Foolies this year. The annual fundraiser for New Hope Children’s Advocacy Center and United Way Success By Six has a third partner this year that is close to the heart of this entertainment “act.” Sharing in the money raised at April Foolies this year will be The Gate -- Gateway to Independence, a Blount County agency that serves adult individuals who have mental or physical disabilities. The Gate Crashers are all recipients of services from The Gate.
The Gate Crashers will be easy to spot even before they take the stage: They have chosen bright tie-dyed shirts and will bring their surfboards to the stage with them.
Executive director of The Gate, Christy Walsh, says the folks at The Gate do not focus on their clients’ disabilities, but rather on their abilities. The Gate fills the gap for these young adults, picking up with an opportunity to learn social and work skills and enjoy social interaction after they have aged out of high school
“They pick up the individual where high school left off,” said board member Brian Tuggle. “It’s a great program.”
Rick Shepard, chairman of the board of New Hope Children’s Advocacy Center, said it was a natural move to invite The Gate - Gateway to Independence on as an April Foolies participant and beneficiary. “It’s all about people. We have United Way Success by Six and New Hope Children’s Advocacy Center. The Gate is also all about people,” he said.
Jessica Wallace with United Way said she was excited about having The Gate as part of April Foolies. “The Gate does really important work in Blount County, and they help a population that sometimes gets overlooked,” she said. “They can benefit from funds raised, and I know April Foolies can benefit from The Gate being a part of it by bringing in a whole new population. It’s a great collaboration, and we’re happy to have them.”
Walsh said administrators at New Hope Children’s Advocacy Center and United Way Success by Six invited The Gate to participate and be a beneficiary of April Foolies.
“We’re thrilled,” said Walsh. “For us, it is an opportunity to become much more visible in this community. Blount County and every other community has significant populations with disabilities. Typically they disappear into their homes once they graduate from high school. This is an opportunity to celebrate that we have a program that recognizes we have this population.”
The Gate Crashers came about with the help of Edward Harper, who is with Pistol Creek Catch of the Day band and is one of the chairs of April Foolies. It is a musical group made up of approximately 31 clients at the Gate. “Edward comes once a month to sing and play his guitar with the Gateway to Independence participants. Several years ago, we started the Gate Crashers. They typically perform at our fundraisers with parents and those who support us,” Walsh said. “It’s not their voices but their hearts they are sharing.”
Walsh said the Gate Crashers are usually well received by their audiences. “Look for the joy that comes from being part of the community,” she said. “They’re all dancing in their hearts, and it’s focused on the celebration of the joy of life in spite of challenges they have to face.”
Not all of the Gate clients will be at the show because of prior commitments. “We expect half to participate,” said Walsh. “They will sing what we consider uplifting music, some Beach Boys music and other similar artists.”
“The Gate Crashers started as a tribute to those who helped them,” said Tuggle. “It was something they could give back to all those individuals who helped support The Gate emotionally and financially and with their time and energy. It’s a great group of young adults who have a lot to offer.”
The Gate - Gateway to Independence program director Trudy White said The Gate’s clients are excited about Saturday night’s show.
“We are thrilled to be a part of the April Foolies. We are the Gate Crashers, and we will be accompanied by Edward Harper and the Pistol Creek Band,” she said. “We are very energetic, and we have beautiful singing voices and wonderful rhythm.”
White said this is a return engagement of sorts for the Gate Crashers who annually entertain supporters of The Gate during the annual DessertFest.
Gate Crasher member Shellie says the program and the experience as a member of the group has helped her.
“I tell everybody my experience with The Gate,” said Shellie. “I’m a lot more outgoing than I was before because I get to be with people I can help,” she said. “I have a vision problem. A lot of people judged me because of my problem. They thought because I couldn’t see I couldn’t be useful, but I can do anything.”