BARNEGAT, NJ – It wasn’t just the music that set the tone for yesterday’s “Day on the Bay” at Sherer’s Boat Basin.  In its largest turnout ever with over 300 people, the community spirit rocked the special event that went hours past its scheduled end time.

Barnegat’s “Day on the Bay” allowed those with special needs the opportunity to experience a boat ride. Some showed up at the marina with just immediate family members, while others brought along grandparents and other relatives.

 Gabrielle Lasko of Lindenwald came with her six-year-old autistic twins, Sophie and Mikayla, as well as other extended family.  “Last year, Sophie was too scared to go on the boat,” shared Lasko. “She says she’s ready now.”

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Volunteers helped the girls select pink and blue life vests and then led them to the smiling captain waiting for them. When the twins returned, Sophie and Mikayla expressed their excitement almost in unison.

“The best part was we got to ride with our family,” they said. “And, we even got to help drive the boat.”

Area group homes and those bonded by Special Olympics showed up together. Some were in wheelchairs, while others used walkers or support canes for navigation.

Meanwhile, Bethy DeTata, 33 of Brick didn’t just bring her parents James and Sue for the “Day on the Bay.” Her sweet golden retriever, Vinny never left her side and was ready to hop on board the boat when it was their turn.

Barnegat Police Provided Identification Cards

Barnegat Detective James Purcell and Patrolman Brian Weber set up a table to provide identification cards for those with special needs. Families were provided with the photo IDs on the spot. They are considered useful in cases of emergency.

Kim Coll, 54 of Cherry Hill stood patiently in line for her ID card. According to her mom, Ronnie France, Kim has attended every one of the twenty-four “Day on the Bay” events held in Barnegat.

“I love going out on the boat,” said Kim. “It’s so much fun!”

“Kim has Vascular Ehlers-Danlos syndrome,” shared her mother. “Her life expectancy was just 26.  She’s done a lot of things no one thought she could do.”

“The disease causes her to bruise easily,” continued France. “In the beginning, the doctors thought I was abusing her.”

Despite the odds, Coll is a Special Olympics athlete who has kayaked down the Cooper River. “She even works a couple of days a week at CVS,” said the proud mom.

Many Volunteered Time and Donations

Walt Fernandez came up with the concept of the “Day on the Beach” and continues to bring the event together. He speaks highly of those who volunteer time and donations.

“All of the captains volunteer their time and vessels,” said Fernandez. “It’s also an emotional experience for everyone.”

Volunteers range in age from school-aged children to seniors. All do their part to help others enjoy the day. There’s a palpable sense of comradery and helpfulness.

Yesterday’s event was scheduled to end at 2:00 pm. “The last boat didn’t come back until 5:00 pm, “shared Fernandez. “We made sure everyone had a chance at the experience.”

Stephanie A. Faughnan is a local journalist and Director of Writefully Inspired, a professional writing and resume service. Feel free to contact her at sfaughnan@tapinto.net.