COLUMBUS — Jason McCabe used his opportunity of a lifetime to encourage others to chase their dreams.
After all, he was already living his.
“I’ve been dreaming about doing something like that for a long time,” McCabe said. “I’ve been wanting to be a DJ or a broadcaster my whole life. I just told all the people never to give up, and never to let other people pick on you or put you down.”
McCabe, a Piqua resident who is serviced by Riverside Developmental Disabilities in Miami County and is employed at RT Industries, served as the keynote speaker during the Developmental Disabilities Awareness and Advocacy Day event on March 8 at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus, putting his public speaking talents to the ultimate use by delivering an emotional and inspirational speech to a crowd of 200-plus people.
McCabe DJs various dances and events for Riverside, as well as serving as the play-by-play announcer for its Special Olympics basketball and soccer teams. And last year, he did the voice work for radio commercials for Riverside during its successful renewal levy campaign.
An article that appeared in the Troy Daily News in December chronicled those achievements and was shared widely on various social media platforms — where it drew the attention of the event organizers for the state’s Developmental Disabilities Awareness and Advocacy Day event, who reached out to Riverside.
“I thought ‘holy cow, this is a huge opportunity,’” Riverside Community Relations Director Melissa Nichols said. “I knew he’d be excited … but I didn’t want to answer for him. I wanted to ask him in person. I explained to him that the folks in Columbus had seen the previous story that had been shared far and wide on Facebook, and because of all the publicity it brought, they wanted him to be the keynote speaker for Developmental Disabilities Awareness and Advocacy Day — the one day of the year that all of the legislators and folks from all over the state come and turn their attention to issues of importance to people with developmental disabilities.”
“I was shocked. When I heard, I was like ‘oh my God,’” McCabe said. “It was kind of a new thing for me, and it was an honor. It was very good that they invited me to come up, and I was thrilled to go and represent Riverside and RT Industries. I’ve been with both for 26 years now — this August will be my 27th year. It was a very cool thing.”
“Jason’s response was pretty classic,” Nichols said. “He was pretty thrilled. He told me he’d be honored to accept the invitation. Out of 88 counties — each with an organization like Riverside — they could have chosen anyone out of thousands of people. But they called me to ask about Jason. It was quite an honor for him.”
And McCabe received plenty of support from the community leading up to and during the speech.
Barclay’s Downtown Piqua donated a suit and Miami Valley Centre Mall donated a new pair of shoes, and the event organizers provided an overnight stay at the Sheraton Hotel and parking. Dwayne Hall, Jason’s Community First Coordinator at Riverside, stayed with him overnight and took him to dinner and breakfast, provided by RT Industries.
And on the day of the speech, Riverside sent a bus full of McCabe’s friends, classmates and coworkers, along with Nichols, Riverside Superintendent Brian Green — and even Piqua Mayor Kazy Hinds, who watched the speech and stayed the entire day with McCabe and company.
When it came time for McCabe to step up to the podium, the scope of the event finally hit him.
“For one, I didn’t know how many people showed up,” he said. “I was like ‘oh gosh, this place is big.’ I was a little nervous — not a lot, but a little — and figured I might have to pray. I had Melissa on one side of me and the mayor on the other, so I took a hand from both of them and prayed.”
But once he began to speak, he did what he always does — shine.
“I had a few people in tears,” McCabe said. “My roommate, Bobby Pritchard, was in tears. A lot of people were. I talked about my past, where I was born and raised — and when I said something about my hometown of Napoleon, someone in the audience went ‘Woo!’ I wasn’t expecting people from there to be there, too. After the speech, a man from that group came to say hi, Randy Barnes — who was my coach when I was a little boy at Hope School there. I was really surprised to see him.
“I thanked everybody for being there that supported me. It was a really big moment for me, and I wanted to say thanks.”
It was his message to his fellow people with disabilities about how to handle bullying, though, that really brought it home.
“I think I encouraged people,” McCabe said. “If someone has disabilities and someone else is making fun of them, I said walk away. Just walk away. We may have disabilities, but we know how to walk away from people.”
The day wasn’t done after the speech, though.
“After the speeches were over, we were scheduled to meet with State Senator Bill Beagle and State Representative Steve Huffman’s staff,” Nichols said. “They were both out of town for the day, but their staff members sat with us. We had 16 members from Miami County go with us, and we shared concerns. One young lady from Tipp City, Rebekah Russ, she’s passionate about having choices and options for employment. She had written a letter, so she read the letter to the staff and gave them a copy. We shared concerns about the availability for transportation for people with disabilities.
“It was a nice opportunity to get those issues brought to the forefront, as well,” Nichols said.
And as for what’s next for McCabe?
“There are opportunities out there being discussed,” Nichols said. “WOTVC, the public access station in Piqua, and Troy Community Radio have discussed possibly doing a TV or radio show about the services Riverside provides. It’s all about trying to get him out there in front of people and using his special skills to educate people.”
One thing is for certain.
“I’m going to keep pursuing my dreams,” McCabe said. “I’m never going to stop.”
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.