The Charlotte Harbor Evening Rotary Club is sponsoring a craft fair to benefit Tender Hearts Partnership, a nonprofit that provides free social activities for adults with intellectual disabilities.

The fair, the first of its kind presented by the Evening Rotary, is scheduled for 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Dec. 1 at Laishley Park in Punta Gorda. There is no charge for admission.

Blair Lovejoy, a member of the Evening Rotary, said members had become acquainted with Tender Hearts’ missions and recommended to the organization that it provide support. Proceeds from vendors’ fees will go to Tender Hearts.

“We have a few members who have been to their events as volunteers, and they felt the love in the room,” Lovejoy said. “It’s something you have to experience. Tender Hearts is wholly dependent on help from the community.”

Melissa Ellison and Tee Callan, Publix employees, founded Tender Hearts in 2011 after serving on the board of Time Our Respite, a day care for the developmentally disabled in Charlotte Harbor.

“They have a wonderful program, but it’s just for their clients,” Ellison said. “We thought there was a larger need for adults with intellectual disabilities. We decided to hold events open to anybody who wanted to attend. We wanted to make it a community effort.”

Since then, Tender Hearts Partnerships has sponsored about six events a year — mostly dances — to give adults with mental disabilities an opportunity to socialize with one another.

“We want them to feel comfortable in an atmosphere where they’re not being judged,” Ellison said. “We want everyone to have a good time.”

Its Valentine’s Dance is probably its best-known event, but it also puts on a Red, White & Blue BBQ in late June, a Super Hero Dance where participants can dress up as their favorite super hero, and a Halloween Dance.

All the events are held at the Harbor Heights Community Center, which donates the space.

The annual Christmas Dance is coming up from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Dec. 17, sponsored by Tender Hearts. Every participant will receive a gift.

So, the craft fair fundraiser could not be coming at a better time.

“It’s absolutely life-saving for us,” Ellison said.

“We can tell people all day long about how satisfying it is to work with these adults,” Ellison said. “But until you see the joy they experience by interacting with their peers in a comfortable environment, you can’t really appreciate them.

For more information or to donate, go to or email


(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.