F.R.I.E.N.D.S. Down Syndrome Special Needs West Florida Inc. is starting a special needs Gasparilla krewe to raise awareness for those with Down syndrome and create a safe and accepting atmosphere for individuals and their families.

“I’ve always thought that there has to be a way to integrate our special needs community into the typical community to give them an insight and look to down syndrome, autism and special needs adults and how they’re doing something that everybody takes for granted,” said F.R.I.E.N.D.S. executive director Ann Foyt.

F.R.I.E.N.D.S. stands for families, respect, inspire, educate, Down syndrome, special needs. To include their members in the annual Gasparilla festivities, it created a krewe.

The Gasparilla 321 Krewe was started this year with hopes of F.R.I.E.N.D.S. having its own float for over 100 members with Down syndrome or other special needs. The Krewe is named 321 to represent the third copy of the 21st chromosome that leads to Down syndrome.

“For right now, I think we are just going to put together a krewe. … I’m sure it’s going to be easy because when I pitched this to the community, I had such a big response. So, I know it would be really popular,” said Foyt.

In order to have its own float, F.R.I.E.N.D.S. needs to raise money to build or purchase a parade float. The nonprofit is looking for sponsors to help fund the purchase of a float or pirate costumes for its members.

“We have a wonderful community. The special needs community here in Tampa is very supportive of each other,” said Foyt.

F.R.I.E.N.D.S. is also hosting a bingo and brunch fundraiser on Saturday, May 20 to raise money for its organization. The event will take place at the Lucaya Lake Clubhouse from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and will offer designer bags and raffle baskets as prizes. Tickets for the event cost $50 in advance online or $60 at the door and come with 10 bingo cards, brunch and drinks, including a taste of local wines.

F.R.I.E.N.D.S. is a Tampa Bay-area nonprofit that provides special needs resources, information and support for families. For more information, visit www.friendssupport.org or call 813-245-2782.

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Lily Belcher
Lily Belcher is a writer for the Osprey Observer. She started as an intern in the summer of 2020 and has continued to write for the Osprey Observer since completing her internship. Lily is majoring in mass communications at the University of South Florida and is a staff writer for the university’s paper, The Oracle. She enjoys writing about local nonprofit organizations and community role models who have made an impact on her hometown.