Everyone's welcome, inclusion festival rolls out the welcome mat for all abilities
Times-Tribune - 8/12/2019
Aug. 12--SCOTT TWP. -- Mountain Sky has its so-called mayor, and a culture of acceptance and goodwill, to thank for one of its most successful festivals.
It was a chance encounter with Max Doloff about three years ago that led Leah Barron and Amy Pinder to root their Inclusion Festival there.
At that point, Doloff, now 18, of Blakely, had already emerged from being nearly nonverbal, and terrified of loud sounds, to his current status as the "Mayor of Mountain Sky."
Doloff, who has autism, and his mom, Wendy Doloff, spent this past weekend volunteering at the second annual three-day event that rolled out the welcome mat for people of all ages and abilities.
He was the first person Barron, a special education teacher from Central New Jersey, met when she showed up at the outdoor music festival venue on a whim.
"Leah was like, 'This is the spot,'" Pinder recalled her friend telling her. They had been planning the Inclusion Festival for years, and looking for a place to hold it.
Max is a mainstay at Mountain Sky, but it took him a while to get there.
His mom would bring him to shows during the venue's early days, but the volume was too much. He wouldn't get out of the car.
Other guests encouraged him to acclimate at his own pace. Step by step, he learned to love music.
He takes the stage to introduce acts during festivals now.
"You get used to it after a while," he said of overcoming stage fright.
Doloff's story and Inclusion's success enforce its founders' original vision for 117 acres at Scott Twp.'s northern edge.
It's always been about "music, arts, creativity and the children, pretty much the motto from day one," said founder Michael "Ragu" Rogowski.
Township Administrator Carl Ferraro stopped by Saturday night, and then again Sunday afternoon.
"I think it's the perfect spot for it, and it's a great cause," he said.
As the last act, Simon and Garfunkel tribute duo Coo Coo Cachoo, played their set, Pinder, a speech pathologist by trade, couldn't estimate just how many people showed up during the weekend, she just knew it was a lot.
"We had an amazing turnout yesterday," she said. "They told us they've never seen so many people here before."
Beyond the music, things to do included motivational speakers, arts and crafts, and sensory experiences for people with disabilities. There were yoga and meditation classes, drum circles and circus arts workshops. Pinder and Barron plan to bring it back next year.
"Small businesses and corporations and private family foundations have made this possible," Pinder said.
The health insurance company Aetna was one of them, and sent a tour bus where guests could make healthy smoothies, play a video game that involves dancing and check their body mass index.
Pinder said the company approached her about sponsorship, and Wendy Doloff, who works for a health insurance company, applauded big health care corporations for putting greater priority on mental health issues.
"Mental health is part of the body; it needs to be nourished," she said.
Contact the writer:
@jon_oc on Twitter
(c)2019 The Times-Tribune (Scranton, Pa.)
Visit The Times-Tribune (Scranton, Pa.) at thetimes-tribune.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.