Yessenia Leyva knows what it means to live with a disability. Born with spina bifida, she knows first hand the many roadblocks that one can encounter, both physical and intellectual, when navigating a world built for the able-bodied.
Rather than let her condition hold her back, though, Leyva chose to let it catapult her into the stewardship of two successful businesses that tackle head-on the things that often stop the physically and intellectually disabled. One business, Disability Programs, and Training, or DPT Solutions, provides needed services, programs, and training resources for those who need assistance in becoming independent and self-sufficient, in business and in life.
The other business, much more on the fun side, is FUNclusion, a multisensory event for creative, cultural and educational activities and presentations. Held in late September at the German-American Society in Hollywood, FUNclusion 5, like its predecessors, highlighted inclusion through entertainment and showcasing of the talents of those who often are marginalized due to a disability.
More than 300 people of varying abilities attended the indoor/outdoor, multisensory daytime event which included creative, cultural and educational activities and presentations.
“It was amazing,” said Leyva. “Everywhere I looked, every seat was filled. It was very family-oriented, and for the first time, I think that most of the attendees were people with different exceptionalities.”
Because that, she said, is the major reason for the existence of the event — to allow people with disabilities to have a day where they can just get together and not be “different”.
Leyva knows that facing a disability means more than just with dealing with physical limitations; there is the problem of rejection.
“I know what it’s like to be excluded from opportunities. It hurts,” she said. “It is not OK to exclude people who have disabilities.”
Leyva organized FUNclusion as an event open to anyone but designed to give people with disabilities a chance to get together and have some fun.
“I want to promote inclusion and I want people with special needs to come here and have a good time,” Leyva said.
The event included a fashion show with special needs models, complete with music and a very enthusiastic audience. There were games, vendors, performances, a wide variety of delicious food, music with local 12-year-old DJs Amira and Kayla, dancing, and a special visit from local celebrity DJ Laz.
Kids were lined up all day for free haircuts from the BuzzBoxx-DoBetter Project, and the Progressive Firefighters Association (PFA) Charities, Inc. of Miami-Dade and Broward were on hand to provide security and demos.
Serg A. Mesa of Lifeline Insurance & Financial Consulting, a sponsor of FUNclusion, said his goal is to help people with disabilities succeed in the business world.
“Many people with disabilities struggle, especially as they get older,” he noted. “I want to help them as much as I can, especially to become employed and to make a living.”
Andres Cruz, one of the models, enjoyed being part of the event. He has spina bifida and a passion for athletics, especially soccer. “I love soccer. I play and I help other kids learn to play soccer,” he said. “This event was a lot of fun.”
Mia Ellis, who has Down Syndrome, enjoyed being a part of the fashion show. “Mia loves to perform and she belongs out there,” said her mom, Debbie Ellis.
Stephanie Perkins was honored as the queen during the fashion show. She said she had fun and liked being the queen.
And FUNclusion was just that: fun. Able-bodied people, as well as people who live with physical difficulties, came together and everyone had a good time.
David Volz contributed to this story.