Flair: celebrating abilities and breaking down stigmas

Heidi Massey | Staff Writer

Flair, a nonprofit organization that aims to break down negative stigma surrounding disabilities as well as celebrate abilities, is introducing a pilot program at Whitworth. Flair was founded this year by two Gonzaga graduates, Anthony Verducci and Kennedy Donnelly, both of whom have backgrounds in special education and recreational services for individuals with disabilities. Flair’s Whitworth program was chartered by ASWU earlier this semester, and will have a kickoff event in November.

“Flair is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit with a mission to celebrate abilities of those with cognitive and developmental disabilities,” said Verducci. “We do this by providing universities in the United States with the framework for launching inclusive activities and communities.”

Activities organized by Flair groups can include ultimate frisbee, baking, game nights, talent shows, dances, and more.

The concept behind Flair was inspired in part by Gonzaga University Specialized Recreation, or GUSR, a program that enables students to interact with community members with disabilities. Verducci and Donnelly were both involved with this organization.

“Between the two of us we have six years of experience leading these types of programs as well as working for other nonprofits that serve individuals with disabilities,” Verducci said. “Not only did we see the success of the program at our university, but also we saw a need in the community for low cost accessible programming for people with disabilities.”

By partnering with universities, Flair hopes to connect college students to people with disabilities and keep participant costs low.

"I think by connecting college students and individuals with disabilities we give young people the tools and the knowledge working with people with disabilities and creating opportunities for inclusion as they move into the workforce and graduate from school," Verducci said.

Last academic year, Whitworth students showed interest in starting a program similar to GUSR at Whitworth. One of these students was Madeleine Danusiar, a special education major who is now in her final semester at Whitworth. During her sophomore year, Danusiar attended a talent show put on by GUSR.

“Since [attending the GUSR talent show] God has really just put it on my heart to bring such a beautiful environment to campus,” she said. “I saw what they were doing at Gonzaga in terms of inclusive activities for people from the community at large, and I knew that it would work well at Whitworth.”

Danusiar’s idea to bring inclusive activities to campus was encouraged by professors in the education department. She then connected with Verducci and began broadcasting the idea to audiences on campus. Other interested students joined her, and they began working as a team to bring Flair to Whitworth.

“It was just a perfect coming together,” she said.

Danusiar added, “We also want to make sure that Flair is not just a club for people who already know they love to work with people with disabilities. We aspire to be a club that is for absolutely everyone.”

One of Flair’s coordinators, junior Michael Watson, said he is looking forward to what Flair will become.

“Everyone’s a person. We want to get to know them for who they are, not just for what disabilities they have,” he said. “Everyone has a heart and soul and deserves to be known.”

Flair’s first on-campus event will be held in the HUB Multi-Purpose Room on Nov. 3. For more information about Flair, visit helloflair.org, or email whitworth@helloflair.org.