Submitted by: Max Higbee Center

For the first time in 19 years, Bellingham will not be able to partake in a tradition and celebration of community and craft beer at April Brews Day. Like many large events, April Brews Day organizers made the difficult decision to cancel this festival in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and with recommendations from health experts. Plans are underway to explore options to offer the fundraiser in a new format that does not put people at risk. Beyond a loss in community festivity and fun, the event cancellation marks a deep cut in financial stability for Max Higbee Center and its social services for teens and adults with developmental disabilities in Whatcom County.

“We are deeply saddened by the loss of this beloved community tradition and vital funding source for Max Higbee Center,” said Kait Whiteside, Executive Director of Max Higbee Center, “But we’re proud to do our part in the effort to slow the spread of this virus and to help protect our neighbors and frontline workers.”

Max Higbee Center relies on April Brews Day to bring in 45% of its annual budget. The funding raised at this event supports the Center’s community-based social and recreation programs for people with developmental disabilities. The Center temporarily closed with the Washington State Stay At Home Order and cancelled all in-person programs. Since the closure, staff swiftly created a new model for services and now offer daily virtual programming online to keep Max Higbee Center members engaged and connected during a socially isolating time. Staff also began individualized outreach through weekly phone calls to the Center’s most isolated members to ensure basic needs are met and to create social connections for those who do not have technology or adequate support to access virtual programs.

“Max Higbee Center is in a tough spot,” said Whiteside. “More than ever, our support and services are needed by our community members with disabilities and their families. At the same time, we won’t be able to raise the funding that we heavily rely on year after

year. By the end of April, we expected to raise $194,000 from April Brews Day to help fund a year of programs and services that reach a low-income population. Now, there is a gaping hole in our budget and we’ve got to find creative solutions to keep our doors open.”

Max Higbee Center seeks support from the community and a new version of April Brews Day to keep the 35-year-old organization afloat. Plans are underway for an alternative April Brews Day that will bring the festival experience to backyards across Bellingham and Whatcom County. April Brews Day fans can look for announcements on how to participate in the coming weeks. Questions can be sent to Kari Humphreys at aprilbrewsday@gmail.com.

“Although this is a challenging time for everyone, we are getting creative and looking at ways to reinvent April Brews Day and social connections,” said Kari Humphreys, Event Director. “We are fortunate to have a strong beer community and our local breweries and sponsors are already reaching out to see how they can help Max Higbee Center. Our vision for this backyard version of April Brews Day is all about coming together and creating a renewed sense of community that’s both very different and familiar.”

About April Brews Day:

Hosted by WECU and Max Higbee Center, April Brews Day is Bellingham’s largest annual beer festival which would have celebrated its 19th anniversary on Saturday, April 25, 2020. The event welcomes 65 Pacific Northwest breweries, local entertainers and food trucks, and 5,000 festival attendees, volunteers and brewers to Depot Market Square in Downtown Bellingham. In the past, April Brews Day has been the culminating event of Bellingham Beer Week.

About Max Higbee Center:

Max Higbee Center supports and empowers people with developmental disabilities to build health, friendship, and community through recreation. The Center started as a grassroots effort led by educators, families and people with developmental disabilities who wanted quality recreation and social opportunities in Whatcom County. Dr. Max Higbee was instrumental in passing Washington State law that required free and appropriate education in public schools for students with disabilities. Dr. Higbee also spearheaded the movement to create inclusive recreation opportunities and worked with community members to open a nonprofit drop-in center in 1984 for people with developmental disabilities. The Center was later renamed in honor of its inspiring and humble founder. Today, Max Higbee Center serves over 400 individuals with developmental disabilities in Whatcom County through its welcoming social and recreation programs.

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