The seventh annual Special Abilities Family Fun Event is approaching and organizers are hoping the Kilgore community steps up to offer support.
Danny Downing, director of parks and facilities and formerly of Kilgore Fire Department, spoke to the Kilgore Rotary Club on Wednesday, August 22, about the history of SAFFE Day and the importance of community contributions.
“In forming SAFFE Day, who formed it?” Downing said. “Some will tell you (Kilgore Fire Department) Chief Bellows formed it. I’m going to tell you the city of Kilgore formed it.”
Downing explained many organizations, such as the Rotary Club and Lions Club, had been supporting community events in Kilgore long before the creation of SAFFE Day and these efforts led to the creation of the annual festival.
He explained the roots of SAFFE Day could be traced to a benefit organized by KFD in support of a firefighter who suffered a heart attack leading to the amputation of his legs. Kilgore Lions Club donated props and booths to the event for activities and KFD was able to use funds from the event to donate a sizable check to their injured comrade.
According to Downing, when Johnny Bellows became the new KFD chief, he spoke with a firefighter who had a younger brother with special needs. They discussed a special needs benefit event held in Overland Park, Kansas, later inviting an official from the event to visit Kilgore.
With a plan in place, KFD began laying out the ground rules for the event.
“As we were putting together our first year, we had really one requirement for vendors or anybody coming in there. Our requirement was everything must be free. We do not want to sell anything to this group of people. They go through a tremendous amount of expense every day, all year long. A lot of them, this will be the one smile they get all year long. So we try to make it no cost to the people,” Downing said.
Downing explained the second goal for the event was to make every activity fully accessible for everyone who attended.
“We achieved that,” Downing said. “We went as far as getting an obstacle course you can go through with a wheelchair. We’d take our water activities or riding in the fire truck, we’d put them up in the fire truck. If their brother or sister can do it, by gosh, they can do it also.”
He went on to emphasize the importance of community involvement in the success of each year’s event.
“It’s built around our community and the people that it serves but it’s people like y’all, sitting right here, that make it happen,” Downing said, gesturing at the Rotary Club members gathered at the Meadowbrook Golf and Event Center. “It is the community that keeps SAFFE Day going.”
In the years since the creation of SAFFE Day, the event has grown and now attracts attendees from outside the Kilgore area.
“We, at SAFFE Day, refuse no one. We have people come from out of state to this. We’ll pay for their hotel rooms. We’ll make deals with the hotels here. We try and get rid of all the expense,” Downing said.
Downing told the Rotary Club SAFFE Day will be part of the volunteer expo September 4 in the Texan. Vendors and organizations will be present to allow community members to choose for whom they would like to volunteer. Cutline: Danny Downing, director of parks and facilities, tells the Kilgore Rotary Club about the history of SAFFE Day at their weekly meeting on Wednesday. Downing, who worked for the Kilgore Fire Department for 29 years before taking his current position, explained the event was a community effort. “It is the community that keeps SAFFE Day going,” Downing said.