- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 15, 2002

Overcast skies didn't put a damper on the spirits of the hundreds of folks who gathered on the grounds of the Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy Institute in Northeast yesterday for a family-oriented celebration of all that the institute has done for persons with developmental disabilities.
Roughly 500 friends of the institute feasted under a canopy on barbecue chicken and ribs, baked beans, potato salad, veggie burgers and cole slaw while listening to swing tunes and popular R&B; music. There was also dancing, games and pony rides for the children.
The four-hour party called, "Celebrating our Caring Community," brought together the organization's employees and their families, volunteers, board members, donors and those who use the Kennedy Institute's many services which range from day care to job placement and classes.
Tanesha Abbott, who attends the organization's school, brought her camera along to take some pictures of the celebration. Since enrolling in a photography course offered by the Kennedy Institute, she's developed an eye for photographic conditions and said the cloudy skies provided just the right light.
Her work will appear in the exhibition "Eyes of Wonder: A Passion for Photography" at the Millennium Arts Center in Northwest from Sept. 18 through Oct. 17. About 120 black-and-white photographs taken by students in the Kennedy Institute's program and in D.C. public schools will be on display in the exhibit.
"I became interested in photography in April when the class started," said Miss Abbott, 19. "It's fun learning about photography, and I feel really good once I see the finished picture. Now, whenever I have some free time, I shoot.
"So, today, I get to take pictures, meet and greet people I love. And although it's cloudy, it's still a great day," she said.
Ricardo Thornton, 43, agreed and said yesterday was dedicated to family, friends and community. The vice president of Project Action, a coalition of self-advocacy groups at the Kennedy Institute, he said he's always out in the community helping people with developmental disabilities learn to take care of themselves.
"We try to make sure that the rights of persons with developmental disabilities are not violated, that they receive proper medical care and [we] make sure doctors don't talk down to them," he said.
"We also educate the community about people with developmental disabilities and the growth potential that's present," Mr. Thornton said. "Just because a person has a disability doesn't mean that they should be looked upon as being a lesser person."
Mr. Thornton said he was labeled as "learning disabled" as a child and was sent to Forest Haven in Laurel. After he arrived there, he learned he had a brother and sister who also lived at center for the mentally and physically handicapped, which was shut down in 1991. He said his sister died at Forest Haven, and Mr. Thornton decided to become an advocate on behalf of people with developmental disabilities, he said.
"I don't ever want to see people with special needs in a place like that," said Mr. Thornton, who is married and has a teen-age son.
He credits the Kennedy Institute, founded in 1959, for helping him to become a better parent and a productive member of society.
"It's a good organization and this organization wants to make a difference," he said.
Michael Ward, 37, president and chief executive officer of the Kennedy Institute, walked around the spacious grounds, stopping to talk and laugh for a few minutes with the 500 people he considers his family.
"We are blessed with a strong community of support for people with developmental disabilities in the Washington area. Today is our chance to come together as a people, with and without disabilities, and share friendships, family and fun," he said.


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