by James Coulter
The only thing local musician Korey Ketchum loves more than playing hot tunes is his 5-year-old son with Autism. So when he learned that Rockin’ on the Chain supported local causes to help special needs children, he jumped at the opportunity to perform.
His son loves playing around in the bounce houses set up at the events he performs for. So Ketchum knows for sure that his son will especially love the new sensory garden being constructed by Friends of the Winter Haven Library, which was the beneficiary of Rockin’ on the Chain.
“I know my kid, as soon as he sees it, he will want to go to it,” Ketchum said. “I am looking forward to what they have to offer. That new park, we live five minutes from here, so he will probably be there every weekend…I love the community for sure. Seeing everyone come together for a good cause. And being brought together for music is really awesome.”
Korey Ketchum was one of the countless local bands and musicians who performed at this year’s Rockin’ on the Chain, a three-day event fundraiser dedicated to raising awareness and proceeds for local special needs children and their families.
The three-day event was hosted last weekend at Tanner’s Lakeside. Local bands that performed included the Nathan Baldwin Band, Bucket Brothers, Bluegrass Pirates, Polk County Porch Pickers, and Josh Blevins Band, and local musicians included Korey Ketchum, Shawn Rahn, and Kent Hall.
Aside from good music, attendees could also enjoy barbecue, play around on bounce houses, peruse local vendors, bid on live auction items, hope to win one of the many raffles, lotto hats and 50/50 raffles for great prizes.
The event originally started several years ago as Rockin’ on the River, organized by John Straughn and his good friend Bobby Eddy. Straughn had high expectations for the event, and the overall turnout over the three days more than exceeded those expectations.
“I could not be more pleased,” he said. “[What] I appreciate most is the community involvement. There are staff and volunteers who have wrapped their arms around this event and showed their support…People are showing up and having a good time, listening to good music with friends, and supporting a good cause.”
Gregory Harris was one of the students from Victory Ridge Academy who participated in the event. He has cerebral palsy. He loved being able to see other people, including children like himself, enjoying the event to support a good cause.
“It is 10 out of 10, I love it,” he said. “I just love kids and supporting them. Everyone is having fun and enjoying themselves.”
Proceeds from the event will go toward Friends of the Winter Haven Library. They will use the funds to construct a new sensory garden for children with autism and special needs, as well as senior citizens with dementia and Alzheimer’s.
“It feels wonderful because it is such a worthy cause,” said Therese Baeza, a volunteer with Friends of the Library. “It is just a beautiful thing to know that we have this many people turning out…The people who have been coming by, have become so friendly and so receptive, yesterday, we had people buying books and donating money. It has been wonderful.”
Joey Foley served as the master of ceremony. He was awe-struck by the turnout over the past three days. What he enjoyed most was being able to once again help give back to the community. Many of the musicians that performed had children or relatives with special needs, which made the event especially special.
“All these musicians are playing free of charge and they have a connection with autism,” Foley said. “That is why they are here. That was important when organizing this entertainment. It is to make sure there are folks here for autism because this is what the event is about.”
Melanie Brown Culpepper assisted with the event. She has volunteered for many events hosted at Tanner’s Lakeside, and she assists with many local charities across the county. As someone who works closely with the community, there’s nothing she loves more than seeing the community pull together for a special event like this.
“I appreciate the love and support for special needs and all of our children and ones with autism to help support everyone like that,” she said. “I just want to thank all our musicians and businesses all the people because without them we could not make this happen and everybody does this out of their own time.”