The sun was shining and the music booming as people gathered in downtown Forest Park on Saturday, June 14 for Opportunity Knocks’ highly anticipated “OK BBQ Block Party.”
Opportunity Knocks, or “OK,” is a non-profit organization based in River Forest that serves young adults with developmental disabilities in Oak Park, River Forest and Forest Park. Throughout the year, OK hosts various social, recreational and educational events to provide support and resources to individuals with disabilities and their families.
This year’s barbecue held at the intersection of Elgin Avenue and Madison Street was the third annual for OK. The event featured food and drinks from area restaurants and bars, burger and pie eating contests, live music and a dunk tank featuring Forest Park Mayor Anthony Calderone.
President of OK Phil Carmody was inspired to start the organization with his brother and OK executive director Mike to help empower individuals like their younger brother, John, who has Down syndrome.
Carmody says OK decided that Forest Park would be the best location for the group’s barbecue because it would best for a community organization to keep even its biggest events local.
“It just makes good sense for us to keep it here and feed something back into the community for the businesses that support us,” Carmody said.
Carmody explained planning the barbecue takes a whole year and the event has grown greatly since 2012.
“A soon as we finish one [barbecue] we start planning for the next year,” he said. “We review it and kind of figure out what we want to do differently next year and as soon as we can, we start planning.”
While the barbecue and other events that OK plans take a lot of time and dedication, Carmody says he enjoys every minute of his work.
“At this point, I’m totally entrenched in it,” he said. “Now, it’s become so much bigger than our family that it’s in my blood and something very close to my heart. The reason why I do it is because of the impact that it has.”
The positive energy of OK’s directors and volunteers was evident throughout the afternoon.
“I just really wanted to volunteer today, get some sun, hang out with all the warriors [clients of OK],” volunteer Stephan Powers said. “They’re awesome people.”
Rachel Dennis, owner of Forest Park’s Piggyback Tavern, has participated as a vendor for the barbecue since the beginning.
“It’s just a really great cause,” Dennis said. “We like to be involved in the community. Also, some of our employees are involved in the program. It’s really just about community and being involved.”
General Manager of Piggyback Tavern James White agrees that OK’s barbecue has been a great way to build community and enjoy the summer.
“It’s a perfect day and the weather couldn’t be any better,” White said. “We got a big turnout, everybody seems to be having a blast and the music is fun.”