Community members, local businesses, and local musicians banded together yet again for the 7th annual Livin’ It Up Music Festival to benefit Porter County Special Olympics at Zao Island.
Bands such as Beggar’s Banquet, Chris & Lou, Disraeli Gears, Ripley Street, 3 Peace, and DJ Andy Petrovich played for a crowd filled with hundreds of people. Be they Beatles lovers, Special Olympics athletes, or even just visitors at Zao Island, audience members were brought together to support a great cause. Livin’ It Up Music Festival Organizer and Porter County Special Olympics Board Member John King knew that this event would unite the community through the arts while simultaneously raising funds for Special Olympics.
“My oldest daughter is special needs,” said King. “My wife, Julie, who works as a talent scout in this area, thought of the idea to do a music festival to raise money for those with special needs. We’ve raised up to about $65,000 for Special Olympics plus what we will make at our 7th festival.”
The festival, which was originally held at Sunset Park, moved to Zao Island a few years ago thanks to the support of Ryan Wright, owner of Zao Island. Wright wholeheartedly supports the special needs community, and he was well-aware of how music can be beneficial to this cause.
“This event isn’t necessarily about the money for us; it’s just a great way to give back to the community. The Special Olympics is a great cause, and it makes a lot of lives a lot brighter. My mom is huge into music; she did music therapy for children with special needs. We really want to support the arts and music, and we’ve always dreamt of making [Zao Island] a music venue,” said Wright.
The Livin’ It Up Music Festival was the perfect opportunity to use Zao Island as a place to shine a spotlight on local performers. Before the larger bands took to the stage, 1998 Special Olympics Athlete Daniel Lang performed The Star Spangled Banner for the crowd.
Singer-songwriter Kerry James Junior also made a special appearance at the festival. James, who did not learn how to speak until he was fourteen years old due to the fact that he experienced a seizure, a stroke, and respiratory failure at five-and-a-half months, has been performing for four years. James’ positive attitude and raw talent provided a light at the end of the tunnel for those who have experienced adversity similar to his.
“I’m just excited to be here to support the community and Porter County Special Olympics. Everybody has a voice, so of course you have to support things like this. They teach people how to give back and be appreciative of everything they have. We all just need a chance to be heard, that’s all. We all have a voice, and I want to use my voice to inspire others,” said James before performing.
Those who came to support the event gave a voice to the 300 active Special Olympic athletes that are a part of the Porter County chapter. Diane Havrilla, who has been a Board Member for the Porter County Special Olympics for twelve years, believes that fundraisers like the Livin’ It Up Music Festival give athletes the chance to take full advantage of the Special Olympics program.
“Some of these athletes don’t have any money, and things do have a cost. We raise money for that, so we can send them to different events like state games. A state game for each athlete is $135. We took 125 athletes to the state games this year, so you can tell how important it is that people support these fundraisers,” said Havrilla.
Luckily for the Porter County Special Olympics, the Valparaiso community was more than happy to raise funds for their cause. As community members bought tickets for the 50/50 raffle, donned Livin’ It Up t-shirts, and participated in the gift basket raffle, it was clear that everyone at the festival was glad to aid the Special Olympics athletes in achieving their goals. Audience member Jason Beres not only attended the event to hear some fantastic local bands, but he was excited to support the cause as well.
“Valparaiso has a big heart,” said Eres. “There’s a lot of non-profit organizations here that do great things, and this is just another opportunity for our community to get together for a great cause, enjoy the weather, and listen to some awesome music.”
From providing phenomenal local entertainment, to supporting local businesses, to raising money for an impactful cause, the 7th annual Livin’ It Up Music Festival truly provided a fantastic opportunity for audience members to connect with each other and their community.