Published On: Mon, Nov 5th, 2018

Volunteerism Is Alive And Well In Boca Raton – John Luca

By: Jay Van Vechten

Volunteerism and ‘giving back’ to the community are very much at the heart of Boca Raton. In fact, the majority of the city’s social activities center on charitable events.  From casual parties where guests dress in western attire to the fanciest of black-tie galas, the residents of Boca are more than ready to support their favorite charity in everything from boots to high heels. Bands play, cameras flash, Champagne corks pop, everyone laughs, dances and chats the night away. And for a few hours, all the cares of the day seemingly disappear.

Want to get in on the fun yourself? There are more than 60 local charities to choose from, the options to get behind something you believe in are almost endless.

My own charity, the American Disabilities Foundation, Inc., sponsors the annual Boating & Beach Bash for People with Disabilities. The Bash, now in its 11th year, hosts thousands of South Florida families dealing with debilitating challenges. The event, held each March, offers special needs guests a fun-filled respite from their daily life, while providing an enjoyable time for family members and caregivers. We offer a complimentary BBQ lunch, a concert, a Kids Fun Zone, water sports on the beach, boat rides on the Intracoastal, 40+ exhibitors, therapy ponies for petting, costumed action heroes and even a miniature accessible train that spends the day chugging through Spanish River Park, home of the Bash.

Assistant Fire Chief, John Luca

None of what we do would be possible without our extraordinary team of 400+ volunteers and dozen board members. Among them is Boca Raton’s own Assistant Fire Chief, John Luca.  Several years ago John was diagnosed with neurosarcoidosis, a neurodegenerative disease with no known cure. It produces debilitating and extremely painful ‘demyelinating lesions’ on John’s spinal cord.  As his condition worsened, he turned to me sensing I would understand how being struck with a disability at the height of one’s career would change the course of his life. I should know. It happened to me 17 years ago.

John felt guilt believing he was letting people down and that he would never live up to his full potential. He knew his love for the fire service, especially running emergency calls, was about to change forever. On a personal level, he couldn’t help but focus on the worst case scenarios, which played over and over in his mind. Those emotional struggles combined with his constant and progressive physical ailments caused him considerable heartache. During our talk, I reassured him and asked that he consider joining the board of our foundation. I knew our team would be of help and could comfort him.

Today John says he has found a second home with our foundation’s board, where he came to realize that by surrounding himself with positive, kind-hearted people he was able to overcome his own fears and concerns. He says the Bash, the foundation and the support and love from his family and friends, have inspired him to keep pushing forward.  He has vowed to keep fighting his good fight to slow his disease’s progression.  In the meantime, he remains front and center with all Bash and foundation activities.

Sometimes we find in life that giving back means also receiving.

If you too are interested in volunteering in the greater Boca Raton area, I suggest you do the following:  First, think about what interests you and start making calls to organizations that could benefit from your donation of time – perhaps the most precious thing you have to offer them. Use Google or the Yellow Pages for your initial research.  Here are a few categories to consider: Animals and Pet Rescue; Culture and the Arts; Children and Youth; Community Activism; Crisis Support; Disabilities; Literacy and Education; Politics; Environment; Health; Homelessness; Hunger; Seniors; Veterans, and Women’s Issues.

If you are interested in specific volunteer opportunities in Boca, check out the listings at bocaguide.com/volunteer.html. You can also contact the Spirit of Giving Network at 561-299-1205.  The Network’s staff will train you in how to be a volunteer and help match you to a local nonprofit organization. Visit www.spiritofgivingnetwork.com.

For further information about the Boating & Beach Bash for People with Disabilities visit: www.boatingbeachbash.com or call 561.715.2622 to volunteer.

About the Author

- Jay Van Vechten is a retired New York City PR man. He operated his own award winning agency for 25 years until a fall changed his life. A full time resident of Boca Raton, Van Vechten chairs the American Disabilities Foundation, Inc., and serves as the Executive Director of the annual Boating & Beach Bash for People with Disabilities. He was recently named Direct Service Provider of the Year by the Special Needs Advisory Coalition of Palm Beach County. He is also the past Chair of the City of Boca Raton Advisory Board for People with Disabilities. And currently sits on the city’s Community Advisory Panel.

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