HILLSBORO COUNTY, Florida. The allegations varied, some serious, but the convicts were all smiling at the 12th annual Jail and Bail fundraiser held Friday at Eddie W.’s restaurant in Tampa.
The restaurant served as a “prison” for about a dozen “prisoners” who raised bail money that would benefit Wheelchairs 4 Kids, a local charity that provides adaptive equipment and activities for local youth.
One notable convict was Sonia Bryson-Kirksey, widely known as the voice of the Tampa Bay Lightning. She sings the national anthem with a smile before almost every Bolts home game. On Friday, she kept her smile because she was more than happy to spend some time behind bars for good reason.
“The result will always be special. It will be little children in wheelchairs that they need,” Sonya said from her cell. So that’s the key. Raise money so they can get the wheelchairs they need here.”
Jail and Bail is one of three major fundraisers held annually by Wheelchairs 4 Kids.
“I love it because it really gives us the opportunity to interact with the community,” said Wheelchairs 4 Kids program manager Nina Shaw. — With people who care about the community with special needs. They are ready to give their time, their talent, their money to be here and experience it with our children. So it’s amazing.”
For kids like 17-year-old Shane Kaufman, Wheelchairs 4 Kids continues its mission of mobility and inclusion.
“You do fun activities like water skiing, snowboarding. Events are just fun,” Kaufman said with a smile. “I love hanging out with everyone. Loved these people from day one.
Parents never get tired of watching their kids do what everyone else does.
“We even see kids on the field on their bikes. People don’t stare as hard when it’s a bicycle instead of a chair. So they go out and do everything and they love it,” Shane’s mom Danielle Ellis said. “They love to play with their siblings rather than watch from the porch or inside. Children want to go to theme parks. They want to do everything their school friends do.”
It never gets boring to watch your child’s reaction to getting new adaptive equipment.
“This is the part of my job that I love the most,” Shaw added. “Just seeing this child is the moment when he changes from his small uncomfortable wheelchair to a new, specialized, seated one. Realizing that his body is no longer uncomfortable. He doesn’t hurt anymore. He can move. This is such a unique moment. I’m crying. I just cry all the time.”
Bryson-Kirksey performed several tunes to earn more bail money at Friday’s event. She does what she does best so that kids who get adaptive equipment can do whatever they want.
“They want to be mobile, they want to move and do what normal kids do,” Sonya said. “And in these wheelchairs, it will happen.”
For more information, visit www.wheelchairs4kids.org.