Get Ready to Party! It's a Milestone Birthday!

The No 1 way to celebrate a 25th birthday is, weather permitting, a picnic, according to party planner purpletrail.com.

Disability Network/Lakeshore’s Board of Directors loves that idea, too.

That’s why they’re inviting community members to Windmill Island Gardens in Holland to celebrate the organization’s 25th birthday, and quarter-century of advocacy on behalf of people with disabilities, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Thursday, June 1.

Food at “Cheers & Beers to 25 Years” is free, but registration by May 25 required so the appropriate number of grills are fired up to feed guests. There will be a cash bar serving New Holland brews.  Register online at our event page, or by phoning the organization at (616) 396-5326.

Music will be performed by rockabilly star Delilah DeWylde.  Guests are free to explore the 36-acre park. Kids aged 12 years and under can ride the island’s antique carousel with hand-carved and hand-painted horses for free. There will also be face painting and balloon animals for the children.

“We’ve really designed this to be a fun, family-friendly event,” said Lucia Rios, DNL’s community access specialist. “We’ll have tables set up, but there also will be plenty of room to spread out a picnic blanket to eat, or set up their lawn chairs to just sit and enjoy the music.”

The organization was formed in 1992 as the Center for Independent Living.  Its purpose, then and now, is to provide help for residents of Ottawa and Allegan counties who have disabilities, whether or not those disabilities are apparent. 

The agency now annually serves about 1,800 people, whose challenges range from job skills training and housing needs, to benefits planning and transitioning from rehabilitative care to living independently. The organization also plays a leadership role in identifying and addressing accessibility issues in the community.

The name was changed to Disability Network/Lakeshore a decade ago to suggest the broadening scope of its work and the importance of collaboration.

“By connecting people with disabilities to resources and opportunities, we are building communities where everyone can participate, contribute and belong,” said Todd Whiteman, only DNL’s second executive director. “Our dream is to create engaged citizens and livable communities.”

According to the organization’s first executive director, Ruth Stegeman -- who left in 2011 after serving 19 years -- Disability Network’s crowning community-wide accomplishment came in 2006, when it spearheaded voter approval of the Macatawa Area Express transit millage. This funded expansion of public transportation. It improved employment opportunities and enhanced the quality of life for many local people with disabilities.