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Home / Neighborhood / San Gabriel Valley / Pasadena Independent / AbilityFirst’s Food and Wine Festival marks 50th anniversary in South Pasadena

AbilityFirst’s Food and Wine Festival marks 50th anniversary in South Pasadena

by May Ruiz
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AbilityFirst’s renowned Food and Wine Festival celebrated its 50th anniversary in grand style on Sunday, June 9 from 5 to 8 pm at the Urquhart residence in South Pasadena. Approximately 400 guests attended this milestone year and enjoyed the culinary and beverage offerings from more than 20 top restaurants, cocktail bars, wineries and breweries.

Some of this year’s participating restaurants and dessert shops were Agnes Restaurant & Cheesery, Alexander’s Steakhouse, Beard Papa’s, Bone Kettle, El Cholo Cafe, Gale’s Restaurant, Kensington Caterers, Lord Empanada, Marina, Mi Piace, Nothing Bundt Cake, Pocha LA, Porto’s Bakery, Stems: Cheese, Charcuterie & Catering, Tam O’Shanter, The George, We Olive & Wine Bar and more.

Beverages featured cocktails and spirit tastings from 1886 at The Raymond, Dulce Vida Tequila, Empress 1908 Gin, Gerlach’s, Knox & Dobson and Old Hillside Bourbon Company. Craft beer was from Golden Road Brewing, San Gabriel’s Ogopogo Brewing, along with specially curated Wines from Caymus Vineyards, Navarro Vineyards, and Riboli Family of San Antonio Winery. Nonalcoholic beverages were provided by Celsius and PepsiCo.

Attendees peruse auction items. | Photo by Brianna Chu/HeySoCal.com

According to Mary Urquhart, she got involved with AbilityFirst when she was the president of the San Marino chapter of the National Charity League and this is the third time that her family has hosted this outdoor event.

A few days before the Food and Wine Festival, Urquhart said, “We should be very proud that we have such a wonderful institution for 98 years in our community. It serves so many people with special needs and we’re lucky to have it … and hopefully many will support it this Sunday.”  

Indeed AbilityFirst has transformed the lives of children with special needs and their families. Established in 1926 as the Crippled Children’s Society of Southern California by members of the Los Angeles Rotary Club, it aimed to assist kids with polio.

In 2000, the organization adopted the name AbilityFirst to better reflect its broader mission of helping children and adults with physical and developmental disabilities reach their full potential by providing recreational and socialization programs, employment, accessible housing and camping.

Lawrence L. Frank, of Lawry’s Restaurants fame, was one of the original founders of the organization, and 52 years ago AbilityFirst opened the Lawrence L. Frank Center in Pasadena and Long Beach. From 2016 to 2017, the number of children and adults with developmental disabilities in these communities grew by 1,000 people, 66 percent of whom are between the ages of 6 and 51 years old — the target age for AbilityFirst’s programs.

Food and Wine Festival auction | Photo by Brianna Chu/HeySoCal.com

Introduced a few years ago was College to Career, a community-based program for students who want to go to college and gain the skills, training and education they need to achieve their academic and career goals. Additionally, the program emphasizes independence and personal choice in using community resources for daily living and future employment.

This multi-year program begins with a self-discovery and community exploration component to help students to identify and develop a plan to achieve goals. Upon completion of the academic component, individuals may transition to community jobs, internships, or volunteer programs as they launch their career paths. The Lawrence L. Frank Center, AbilityFirst’s flagship location in Pasadena, houses the expanding College to Career program.      

AbilityFirst has six community centers offering several new adult  programs including ExploreAbility, DiscoverAbility and PossAbility. After school enrichment program includes homework support, outdoor activities, arts and crafts, cooking and more!”

ExploreAbility is an adult day and community integration program currently being offered at the AbilityFirst Joan and Harry A. Mier Center in Inglewood and the AbilityFirst Lawrence L. Frank Center in Pasadena. A licensed program, its objective is to identify what is important to each individual, to develop the skills necessary to achieve their goals and to be involved in their communities through volunteering and community activities. Individual support and small-group activities promote interaction and learning.

The program is designed to help individuals access their communities in their daily lives, work, recreational and leisure activities. It incorporates volunteering, community activities, independent living and skill-building, using a small group model.

Guests chat, eat, and drink at the Food and Wine Festival | Photo by Brianna Chu/HeySoCal.com

PossAbility, offered in Pasadena and Los Angeles, is intended for adults who want to enhance their skills and independence, and to participate in their communities. Individuals in the program are empowered to set and pursue personal goals with an emphasis on employment readiness and increased community connections, including volunteering. 

AbilityFirst has two group homes in Pasadena for adults and seniors — Crown House and Sierra Rose.

Rounding out AbilityFirst’s programs is Camp Paivika, a Native American word meaning “Dawn,” in the San Bernardino Mountains. It was begun in 1946 by the Rotary Club as one of the first full-accessible camps in the United States and has been in active operation since. It is maintained through endowments from donors and fund-raising efforts by community members.

Going to summer camps helps children develop social and communications skills as they participate in activities with other kids. It helps individuals build character and gain self-respect as they become responsible for their own safety and survival in a setting outside their comfort zone.

Camp Paivika offers this same independence and self-reliance for children, teens and adults with physical and developmental disabilities. Specially-trained members of AbilityFirst staff provide assistance and guidance as campers enjoy all the fun activities available to them — archery, arts and crafts, campfires and cookouts, nature hikes, horseback riding, swimming. It is fully accredited by the American Camp Association.

Attendees enjoy the food and beverage offerings | Photo by Brianna Chu/HeySoCal.com

All these life-changing programs are made possible through AbilityFirst’s Food and Wine Festival. How it evolved into the spectacular event that it is today is quite an inspiring story.

A support group called Crown Guild held the first food and wine festival in 1953 with a wine tasting at The Langham Huntington Pasadena, then known as the Huntington Hotel. Each Crown Guild member would invite ten to twelve friends and they would all be responsible for bringing a bottle of wine for the tasting.

It branched out to Crown Guild members homes, and then onto friends of members’ homes, until they got local restaurateurs and beverage companies involved. It lent a casual outdoor environment where guests could mingle and chat over food and drinks. Over the years, AbilityFirst built strong relationships with restaurants, wineries, and breweries.          

With the Food and Wine Festival’s 50th anniversary celebration, AbilityFirst continues the founding Rotarians’ legacy. Ninety-eight years after it was first created, AbilityFirst carries on its mission of providing and responding to the special needs of individuals with disabilities.               

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