For more than a decade now, the first weekend in May has represented a chance for area residents to celebrate the Kentucky Derby in style — and support a Mission organization that helps adults with disabilities live independent lives.
The Mission Project’s annual Derby Gala has become the group’s premier event of the year, bringing hundreds of people together for a party that combines fun food and drink with high style and valuable raffles.
“It’s become more than a fundraiser, and one of the best know Derby parties in Kansas City,” said Mission Project Executive Director Sarah Mai.
But the event is more than an excuse to have a good time. The money raised through the event provides crucial funding for The Mission Project’s transportation program, which provides its clients with rides to jobs.
Mai points out that the main barrier to employment for adults with intellectual disabilities is access to reliable transportation. The Mission Project’s transportation program is funding largely through grants, but the funds raised through the Derby Gala fills in the rest of the budget.
Nationwide, employment levels for adults with disabilities are around 20 percent. All 32 of The Mission Projects clients hold jobs – and Mai says the transportation program is key to their 100 percent employment level.
“Through our van and drivers, we can provide transportation six days a week, morning and night, all over the city,” she said. “It opens up the doors for them to have meaningful employment where they are out there contributing to society, productive all day.”
The honorary chairs of this year’s gala are former Mission Mayor Steve Schowengerdt and his wife Mary. Mai credits the Schowengerdts with helping build support for The Mission Project.
“They kind of rallied local community to be stronger supporters of these citizens,” she said.
The Derby Gala is next Saturday, May 5, at the Grand Street Ballroom on the Plaza. You can find more information and purchase tickets for the event here.