SOMERS, N.Y. - This year’s Independence Day celebration will buck tradition with a location change and a full slate of bands, food trucks, games, rides and activities, culminating with a fireworks display.
The event will honor Victor Prato, a graduate of Somers High School who was serving as a lieutenant in the Army when his division was struck by a car bomb in Afghanistan.
The new celebration is virtually unrecognizable from years past at Reis Park. Dubbed Block Party 2018, the event will function like a tailgate with attendees encouraged to “pull-up, park and party.”
Gates open at 2 p.m. and festivities begin at 3 p.m. on Saturday, June 30, at the Sebastian Capital Urban Campus (the former Pepsi building) at 1 Pepsi Way, across from King Kone.
“The Town is an excited partner with the Somers Lions Club and Sebastian Capital as we bring the Somers Independence Day celebration to the former PepsiCo campus,” Supervisor Rick Morrissey said. “We are especially proud to hold this celebration in honor of Victor Prato, our hometown hero, who epitomizes what’s great about our community and country. I’d also like to recognize the Independence Day Task Force for all their efforts as we moved from Reis Park which was, and is, a great venue, but we have an opportunity to build on our celebration and make new memories at another great location.”
Attendees will only be allowed in by car. The entrance fee is $20 per carload if tickets are purchased in advance and $30 the day of the event; VIP parking is available for $100 per carload and includes two parking spaces on the same level as the food and entertainment.
Tickets are available at blockparty2018.org, along with a full schedule of events. Highlights include going for a world record for the greatest number of people to salute a drone at 6 p.m. Fireworks begins at 9:30 p.m.
Jan Corning, Lions Club committee member, said town officials and civic groups started brainstorming a new kind of Independence Day Celebration after last year’s event drew dismal numbers.
“Interest had been falling off at Reis Park for quite some time,” Corning said. “We definitely needed to energize it.”
Supervisor Rick Morrissey reached out to Sebastian Capital CEO Roxana Girand, who agreed to donate use of the building’s campus for the event.
“We are really grateful to be involved in the Somers community. Being able to support the Lions Club and the Independence Day Block Party is important to us,” Girand said. “Giving something back to this community and being an active contributor is a guiding principle of Sebastian Capital. What we are trying to create with the Urban Campus is much more than an independent environment; we want to build a place that everyone feels is a part of their hometown.”
With the venue in place, the committee of Lions Club members and Somers Chamber of Commerce members started planning.
“Once you change the venue, ideas start to flow and it becomes much more exciting, even in the planning process,” Corning said.
The committee built the event from the ground up and used the layout of the property to come up with the block party theme.
Grills are not allowed, but there will be food trucks selling everything from barbecue and pizza to gyros, French fries, ice cream and more. The Lions Club will also be grilling hamburgers, hot dogs and sausage and peppers.
The Westchester All Stars for Wounded Veterans Project will be at the event selling shirts honoring Prato.
Prato’s parents, Janet and Gregory, are back in Somers after spending half the year by their son’s side, aiding his recovery.
After the attack in Afghanistan, they met up with Victor in Germany, where he was treated and his condition was stabilized enough to enable him to be flown to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., and then to a hospital in Florida, where he remains in rehabilitation.
“He’s a quadriplegic and that will never change,” Janet Prato said. “All four of his limbs will never function 100 percent.”
In December, Victor received the Purple Heart from President Donald Trump
Janet Prato said it’s hard for Victor to consider himself a hero, “because he was doing what he always felt he needed to do for the country.”
“He was like, I was just at the wrong place at the wrong time,” Janet Prato said.
She said the community has rallied around her family since the attack and Victor’s spirit hasn’t wavered, knowing he has the support of the country, and Somers, behind him.
“From Day One, he’s just been amazing,” Janet Prato said. “It’s really been easy for my husband and I because it’s not like we had to pick him up–not that he doesn’t have a bad day here or there–but in general, he’s really positive about working hard.”
She was by her son’s bedside the day Trump came to deliver the Purple Heart.
“It was very moving,” Janet Prato said. “All of a sudden the room starts filling will people. General (John) Kelly comes in and all these other people come in and all of a sudden, the door opens. It was almost like Donald Trump stepped right out of the TV screen.”
Corning said it was fitting to honor Victor Prato at this year’s event.
“This is a kid from our town who suffered an unimaginable hit in his life,” Corning said. “He really is a hero. It’s not just him whose life changed. His family’s life changed. His family is as much a fighter and warrior on behalf of the country as he is.”
The event will wrap up with fireworks, where Corning said everybody will have a front row seat because of the way the parking is structured.
“There’s an enormous amount of work that went into this,” Corning said. “We’ve been meeting every week since January and we’re having a ball doing it, but it’s also a lot of work when you do something new for the first time.”