Friends gather to support Westside Community of Friends

Chops for Charity event organizer Chris Thomas, Board Members Sharon Hedley and Jay Abraham, event sponsor Tammi Pasquale of Mission BBQ, Volunteer Naomi Woolridge, Ben’s Place Executive Director Anne Yarbrough


The first annual Chops for Charity barbecue competition, organized by Chris Thomas of Paul Davis Restoration, drew more than 100 supporters of Ben’s Place, a Community of Friends, on Jan. 21 to taste ribs and chops and enjoy a pulled pork lunch, donated by Mission BBQ.

Six barbecue teams (including five professional competition teams and one amateur competition team) cooked up ribs and pork for tasting by visitors, who voted for People’s Choice award by donating money to the teams they liked best. Over all, it was estimated the event raised about $2,000.

Six judges, including Captain Jim Kountz of Station 44, Norm Abraham, Kerry Speckman, Nathan Alberts, William Barker, and Arielle Coutu, determined the winners of the competition. In the ribs category, Sabrina and David Young of Just Pig Out were the winners, while Gary Lee Park, Jr. of G’s Slow-Smoke BBQ won for pork chops. The People’s Choice award went to Charlie Owens and Haley Smith of Smokin’ Your Butt, whose winning entrée was bacon-wrapped tater tots and bacon-wrapped Li’l Smokies.

The judges also tasted sides, such as cole slaw and baked beans, crab mac ‘n cheese, as well as a barbecue “sundae” made with baked beans, mashed potatoes, pulled pork and a cherry tomato on top.

Fifteen years ago, what began as a Friday evening social club for adults with developmental disabilities, now serves about 50 adults with special needs 12 hours per day during the week and three hours on Saturday and Sunday. Ben’s Place, located at 1956 Blanding Blvd., provides activities such as arts and crafts, games, dances, physical fitness, music, movies, and a kitchen for cooking instruction.

More importantly, the organization offers a unique opportunity for adults with developmental or acquired disabilities to have friends, as well as interact and learn life skills with their peers in a social environment. Board member Jay Abraham took an active interest out of simple curiosity.

“I got involved after driving by Ben’s Place on Blanding Boulevard near San Juan and noticed a long line of people walking toward the back of the building. It intrigued me so I looked them up online at to learn what Ben’s Place was about,” said Abraham, a Lakeside resident. “Soon thereafter I won a work-sponsored contest, which provided a nice donation to the charity of my choice. I chose Ben’s Place and matched the donation.”

Ben’s Place later asked Abraham to serve on its board of directors with a focus on fundraising. He is helping create a corporate sponsorship program to get one local company per month to cover the nonprofit’s $1,400 rent. Domtar, the company where Abraham works, and J.B. Coxwell Contracting, Inc., have signed on as corporate sponsors. The Ida Mae Stevens Foundation currently pays the electric bill, and Seabest, a seafood company, also helps out by donating food for events.

Abraham’s father, Norm, owner of the former Riverside/Brooklyn restaurant Two Doors Down, attended the event also in a show of support.

“It’s a special ministry, a hidden gem that most people on the Westside don’t know about. If they do, they probably don’t know it’s mainly run by volunteers and a limited staff,” said Norm Abraham. “They do so much for the individuals they serve with very limited financial resources. Any individuals who can help them financially it sure would be appreciated.”

By Kate A. Hallock

Resident Community News


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