LAKEWOOD RANCH — East County residents can get a taste of the Highlands life while benefiting charity this weekend.
The fourth annual Scottish St. Andrew’s Festival, hosted by MacAllisters Grill & Tavern, will start at 6 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 10, on Lakewood Ranch Main Street.
Event organizer Karen Ronney, owner of MacAllisters, wants people to embrace St. Andrew’s Day like they do St. Patrick’s Day.
“The Irish hog the limelight,” Ronney says, joking. “We have bagpipes, too.”
This year’s free event, which will feature face painting, balloon artists, a rock wall, beer and wine samples, pictures with Santa and live music from the Jacobites Pipe & Drum Band and the Billy Rice band, will benefit the Wobbly Feet Foundation, an organization that raises awareness and support for Ataxia-telangiectasia (A-T), a rare and progressive neurological disease.
Nick and Samantha Dzembo started Wobbly Feet after their son, Connor, now 6, was diagnosed with the disease.
Ronney and the Dzembos collaborated on the event’s planning.
Ronney said she appreciates and admires the strength of the Dzembos, frequent customers of MacAllisters. The restaurant owner has two young children herself, including a newborn.
“This is about raising money for research,” Ronney said. “It’s a full-time job how Samantha and Nick care for Connor. I don’t know how they do it. I couldn’t imagine not knowing the life expectancy of my own child.”
Connor, one of four children in Florida with A-T and one of only 500 in the U.S., looks like any other child, anxiously tugging on his mother’s shirt and laughing as the family sits together outside of MacAllisters.
The Dzembos weren’t aware anything was wrong with Connor until, at 6 months old, he seemed to get sick every day. Then, the diagnosis came.
Now, as the disease kills his brain cells over time, degenerating his cerebellum to the point where he loses motor function and speech ability, Connor struggles to get through the day.
On Halloween, Connor, excited to join his friends trick-or-treating, only made it 10 houses before his legs gave out and his parents had to carry him home.
Connor has to take daily inflammatory medicine to stay healthy.
“You can be in denial when they’re young, because the progressions are almost overnight,” Samantha Dzembo said. “Every dollar we raise here will go directly to research. We can say the dollars the community gives us will go directly toward our purpose.”
In three years, through donations and fundraisers, Wobbly Feet has raised more than $80,000 and co-funded three medical-research projects, alongside the A-T Children’s Project, at Johns Hopkins Hospital, Albert Einstein University and Louisiana State University, toward treatments to prolong and increase the quality of life of an A-T child.
In a few weeks, Nick and Samantha Dzembo will head to Washington, D.C., for an A-T conference, where they will speak with researchers about the disease.
The Dzembos hope to raise $5,000 at the Scottish Festival.
“This is an active community, and I know we can reach that,” Ronney said.
Contact Josh Siegel at firstname.lastname@example.org.
IF YOU GO
Scottish St. Andrew’s Festival, hosted by MacAllisters Grill & Tavern
When: 6 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 10
Where: Lakewood Ranch Main Street
Details: Festivities include face painting, balloon artists, a rock wall, beer and wine samples, pictures with Santa and live music from the Jacobites Pipe & Drum Band, the Billy Rice band and a raffle for an iPad 3.