By Brooks DuBose
For The Diamondback

College Park Mayor Patrick Wojahn teamed up with local nonprofit organizations Monday to host the Disability Employment Awareness Costume Bowl-A-Thon at AMF College Park Lanes.

Wojahn, as well as a representative from the office of Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Maryland), attended the event to support National Disability Employment Awareness month, which advocates for workers with disabilities and their contributions to a disability-inclusive workplace.

"Everybody has a right to obtain and keep a level of independence. Regardless of your ability, everyone should be able to make decisions for themselves and be able to work," Wojahn said.

Disability Partnerships and Living Independently for Everyone, two Rockville-based nonprofits, hosted the event. About 25 attendees bowled the night away and also participated in other activities including raffles, a silent auction and games.

Disability Partnerships seeks to improve the quality of life of people with disabilities through programs focused on health and wellness, education and economic empowerment, said Tamara Gallman, the founder and CEO of the organization.

Gallman chose a bowling event to showcase that individuals with disabilities can still participate in everyday activities while staying healthy.

"It's hard as heck to lose weight when you're physically disabled," Gallman said. "I don't want us just to survive. I want us to thrive. I love to see my community represented across many industries."

This is the first year of the Bowl-A-Thon, Rikki Southerland, a Laurel resident who attended with her family, said she hopes to see the event grow.

"I know what [Gallman] is trying to do with [Disability Partnerships]," Southerland said. "We're helpers and we love to bowl, too."

Participants were also encouraged to wear costumes and compete in a costume contest.

Felix Kwankam, a Hagerstown resident, came all this way to show his support. Although he was recently hospitalized and in a wheelchair for the past month, Kwankam said he was glad he came to the event.

"I used to bowl several times a week," he said. "So it's kind of hard to be here and watch."

A majority of the proceeds from the Bowl-A-Thon will go toward funding for adaptive equipment such as door openers for quadriplegics, as well as other accessibility equipment, Gallman said. The funds will also supplement "Wheels of Defense," a women's self-defense class hosted by Disability Partnerships

Denise Thomas, the executive director of LIFE, said both organizations promote a goal of independence within the disabled community, and this event showcased how the community can also play a role.

Thomas said LIFE plans to use its portion of proceeds to start a fully accessible computer lab to help individuals with disabilities gain employment-related skills, such as resume-building.

"The key word for us is inclusion," Thomas said. "[The event] brought individuals with all types of disabilities to the forefront with their non-disabled peers showing that they could be just as active."