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Katharine Pritchard and Destiny Lewis-Bell met more than 15 years ago and are the closest of friends.

Both women are part of YAI’s You and I socialization program that meets once a month. Pritchard is a volunteer who helps run the group and Lewis-Bell is a regular attendee who receives support services with YAI. Their friendship is heartwarming, but uncommon. People with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) often face stereotypes that limit their connections with neurotypical peers, making such strong bonds rare.  

“Destiny is one of my favorite people and it’s really amazing to see how big a role she has played in my life,” said Pritchard. “I’ve always been drawn to the I/DD community and it’s important to recognize that they want the same opportunities as everyone else.”  

The friends make sure to keep their monthly meetups outside of YAI too—whether it’s celebrating birthdays together, going to WWE wrestling matches, grabbing dinner, or enjoying countless walks and coffee dates at one of their favorite spots in the city, Central Park.  

The women will next meet at the iconic park on June 1, joining thousands of others for Central Park Challenge—YAI's annual fundraising event that celebrates people with I/DD. It is the largest neurodiversity celebration in the city and helps raise significant funds for YAI’s 300 programs that serve 20,000 people with I/DD and their families.

Roughly one in four people in the United States has a disability, yet they're often excluded from community life. Events like Central Park Challenge aim to change that. Representation matters - when people with disabilities see themselves included, it transforms how they're seen and treated. It's about building a future where inclusivity is the norm, not the exception. This doesn't just uplift people with disabilities; it benefits everyone by fostering a more equitable society. Surveys show strong support among marginalized groups for increased visibility and inclusion, making events like this vital.

“I feel special when I get to participate in Central Park Challenge, it makes me feel like part of the community,” said Lewis-Bell. “It’s important for people to have an open mind and do their research because we deserve to be respected and included like everyone else.”  

What began in Westchester in 1986 to encourage fitness and healthy living among people with I/DD has grown into a unique inclusive event. Today it features a 3K walk, a festival area filled with games and live entertainment, adaptive technology, and junior races for children ages 2 to 12.

This year, funds raised at Central Park Challenge will focus on two areas where government support falls short: staff training and recreational activities for the people YAI supports. By investing in training, YAI can equip its crucial team with the latest skills to better serve those they support. This not only improves care, but also helps retain staff in the workforce—a challenge in the I/DD field.

“We want to ensure the people we support have access to the same experiences as the rest of society,” said Jessica Stinchcomb, YAI’s Director of Special Events. “Whether it's a long-awaited trip to the beach, an outing to a Broadway show, or a membership to a weekly bowling league, these experiences help people with I/DD expand their world views, practice social skills, interact with their communities, and bring joy to their lives.”

Oscar stands by the bandshell at last years Central Park Challenge
Oscar Segal at Central Park Challenge in 2023.

Being involved in the community is important, and self-advocacy is a big part of that. Oscar Segal is a proud self advocate and believes it's imperative for people with I/DD to be active members of their communities.

Segal has autism and has been one of YAI’s self advocates since 2005. He will be among the many volunteers at Central Park Challenge and loves it when he gets to greet people as they make their way around the event area. Segal will be back at the advocacy booth this year, spreading the word about disability support and inclusion.

“It’s important for our voices to be heard,” said Segal. “I am passionate to help people understand that we are just like you and want the same opportunities you have.”  

A sentiment Pritchard echoes as well.    

"People with disabilities want to have jobs, live independently, experience relationships, and just be accepted,” she said. “I think if there were more opportunities for them to be included in the community, it would be a win-win for all of us. We just need to realize they deserve it and there is no reason we should be treating them as anything less than.”  

YAI’s Central Park Challenge will take place on Saturday, June 1, 2024. To register, donate, or find out more information, visit