Reminder Assistant Editor
WILBRAHAM After a hearty breakfast of ice cream sundaes, Richie Taylor, 11, and Ryan Odens, 29, were introduced as the spokesmen for Friendly's 2007 Cones for Kids fund-raiser for Easter Seals.
Both traveled to Wilbraham last week for the kick-off of Friendly's annual Valentine's Season fund-raiser to talk about how Easter Seals has changed their lives. Children's valentines, each good for five free ice cream cones, are being sold in all Friendly's restaurants from now until Feb. 14 for a $1 donation.
"Easter Seals is the largest provider of services for autism in the United States," Jim Williams ,President of Easter Seals said. "Our ability to meet those needs is directly related to what you do for us."
Both Odens and Taylor explained how Easter Seals assists disabled adults and children with a broad spectrum of needs. Carrying on their mission statement "to ensure that all people with disabilities have equal opportunity to live, learn, work and play" can mean many different things to many different people they serve.
Ryan Odens' story
Not long after Odens' father died of a sudden heart attack, leaving the family's 1,100-acre farm to Odens and his brother at the ages of 19 and 20, Odens was nearly killed in a car accident.
"Doctor's told me that I would never walk again and I never believed it," Odens recalled. "It was on the anniversary of my father's death that I took my first steps."
Once he regained some use of his legs, Odens became determined to carry on family tradition and keep farming. It was the hospital who then put him in contact with Easter Seals.
The charity purchased Odens a small tractor to help him get around the farm. Then, they equipped his tractor and combine with lifts to help him safely climb into the high seats of the farm machinery.
"Through me, my father's dreams are coming true and for that, I could never thank Easter Seals enough," Odens said in a tearful speech to both Friendly's and Easter Seals executives.
Richie Taylor's story
Richie Taylor's life is also made better by Easter Seals through an annual scholarship to Easter Seals Camp Agassiz.
At the specialized get-away for children with disabilities, the cerebral palsy that affects Taylor's legs doesn't stop him from snorkeling, tubing or playing sports.
"Before camp, Richie was afraid to try things," Richie's mother Julie Taylor said. "Now he'll think things out and try them."
Gus DiGiovanni, division vice president for Friendly's, unveiled the 2007 Cones for Kid's slogan as, "Every guest makes a difference." Friendly's pledged to raise more than $1 million with this year's campaign.
"Cones for Kids is just a great way to give back to the communities that we serve," DiGiovanni said.