BERKELEY – You could call them the Red Balloon Brigade! Sixteen cars each sported a crimson balloon flying in the wind for a drive by parade. Their mission was to make Eva Biegel’s afternoon a memorable one and they certainly succeeded.
The event was held on a warm Sunday afternoon. Event organizers Barbara Leigh and Joyce Abrahamsen arranged the July 12 event for their good friend and fellow member of Our Special Klub.
Our Special Klub New Jersey, Inc. is a parent advocacy organization that provides social activities for adults with developmental disabilities. The club promotes public awareness, while exploring programs and governmental provisions for housing, employment opportunities, and other vital services.
Eva received an arrangement of flowers and several homemade cards.
Sitting in a wheelchair and fighting back tears of joy, Eva watched the parade with family members outside her front door of her Silver Ridge Park North house. She was transfixed as many of her friends and a few family members stopped by to greet her and wish her well before moving forward.
“We had 14 families and we picked a route of local roads so we could follow the cars easily, without traffic,” Leigh said.
While Eva’s birthday isn’t until next month, the members of the club felt they needed to bring some joy to their friend who suffered a few health setbacks in recent months.
Each car got a balloon to tie on the door handle on the passenger side or adhered to a car window. Before that, there were the challenges of loosening up the helium tank that was wound very tight and gathering up some strings for the balloons that weren’t included in the balloon kit as had been promised.
The Red Balloon Brigade assembled in the parking lot of the Silver Ridge Realty, on Fort de France Avenue. Abrahamsen and Leigh provided each car their crimson balloon and directions. Then the drive by parade was ready to roll out and proceed west on Fort de France heading toward Jamaica Boulevard and onto Nostrand Drive with another turn onto Doral Drive where Eva was waiting with family members.
Abrahamsen is a charter member and former president of the club. She currently serves as chairwoman of fundraising raffle committee and is also on the Executive Committee.
Her daughter, Danielle is a special member who is always willing to help when she can. She made a card for Eva.
Leigh serves as corresponding secretary and trip chair. Her son, Greg, is a special member, who also likes to help out. They have been members for six years.
Virginia “Ginny” Doty, is a charter member, treasurer, and club historian. She has been a member for over 30 years. Her daughter, Melissa, is a special member.
Eva and Arthur Biegel were early members of OSK. They ran the monthly dances for years, setting up the tables and chairs and acting as DJ. Arthur was able to teach tennis skills and later to play match play tennis with the kids well into his 80s.
“She was a bundle of energy in a tiny package! Eva worked hard at arrangements for the dances, her main driving force was that it was always for the “kids.” They had two sons, Tom and Arthur, special members,” Abrahamsen said.
She added, “I personally remember Eva on trips, as our 90-yr-old Mom who had the vitality and enthusiasm to participate in every activity we offered.”
Leigh said that during this time of pandemic, “our monthly dances are probably the “most-missed” activity. We invite local group homes, at no charge, to come to dance and socialize. We provide snacks and soda and later coffee and cake. It’s on a Friday once a month from 7 to 9 p.m., at the Toms River Elks.”
“In conversations with other members, the most disturbing consequence of COVID-19 is that parents miss our monthly parent meetings when we could pass on the information about changes in government agencies, and resources available for our children,” Leigh said. She added that they also miss planning OSK events.
She noted that the club’s day programs provided vital activities which have now been shut down. “Some of our children have been laid off from unessential jobs, so they are home with nothing to do,” Leigh said.
“Although they are adults, they can’t process the meaning of the restrictions as we do, and it’s very emotional for the family. The children in group homes could not have family visitors for months. They are now allowed to visit sometimes outside with masks and from a distance. They did make the exception to let Arthur come today, but I was told he’s only seen Eva twice this year,” Leigh added.
She said that OSK’s special members have a hard time with following “new and different” rules of procedure.
“We looked forward to going to “Disney on Ice” in March, but it was canceled and we are still waiting for refunds. All our annual events have be canceled, as well as trips to shows. We usually have at least one event a month besides the dances and weekly bowling.”
OSK was established in 1981. “All family members are volunteers. They do not get any pay for what they do except the smiles and appreciation of our adult disabled children,” Leigh said.
For more information, visit Our Special Klub on Facebook.