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For many local beer drinkers, the most anticipated day of the year (everyone’s birthday and Christmas combined into one amazing holiday) is this Saturday, April 28. The Depot Market Square opens to a flood of people lined up around the block for April Brews Day, an event benefitting local charity, Max Higbee Center.

April Brews Day sounds like your ordinary beer festival, but this year it’s going to be bigger than ever. Over 70 breweries bring the best of their kegs up to Bellingham to show us what they’ve got. Some people find some of their favorite beers at April Brews Day, simply because you get to experience dozens of beers from beyond our city limits.

Many of us Bellingham folk like to know where our money is going in instances like this. You’ve bought your online ticket and you’re ready to experience all the beer, but who is benefitting from your purchase? You’ll be happy to know that the Max Higbee Center is an incredible organization that receives a large portion of their annual funding from this event. In other words, you’re drinking for a really good cause.

Dr. Max Higbee, a special education professor at Western Washington University, founded the Max Higbee Center in 1985, after seeing a critical need for services for those with developmental disabilities. Now, Max Higbee Center provides services for over 300 people with developmental disabilities in Bellingham.

“Over the years, our programs have significantly grown and evolved, but the Board has diligently maintained the original mission, vision, and values of creating community-based recreation opportunities for people with developmental disabilities while building a kind and inclusive community,” says Kait Whiteside, the Executive Director of Max Higbee Center.

According to Whiteside, the three primary aims that guide the recreation programs are:

  1.  To provide opportunities for personal enjoyment and enrichment through a diverse range of leisure activities.
  2.   To promote the social, physical, emotional, and cognitive growth and development of participants.
  3.   To assist participants to achieve greater independence in their lives and increased involvement in the community.

April Brews Day is Max Higbee Center’s primary fundraiser for each year and has grown significantly since the first annual event in 2002. Then, there were around 200 attendees and eight breweries involved including North Fork Brewery, La Conner, Anacortes, Skagit River North Corner and Orchard Street.

“It raised $1,300 for Max Higbee Center, a small but meaningful amount at the time. This money saved Max Higbee Center from discontinuing its services and shuttering its doors forever. Since the inaugural event, April Brews Day has slowly grown each year,” Whiteside said.

Now, Max Higbee Center expects to raise $180,000 from this year’s April Brews Day. Every dollar spent at the event, including tickets, merchandise, extra beer tokens, etc., goes to Max Higbee Center and provides about half of their yearly funding.

How do Max Higbee Center and craft beer fit together?

“Seventeen years ago, the Center was in dire need of an annual funding source to remain a functioning nonprofit. Bobbi Vollendorff, a founding member of Max Higbee Center, recognized that wine tasting fundraisers were quite popular and successful and thought, why not host a beer tasting event?” Whiteside said.

Vollendorff approached Janet and Ed, her friends at Boundary Bay Brewery. The idea for a beer tasting fundraiser became a reality– and April Brews Day was born.

Turns out, Vollendorff had the right town in mind for the beer tasting event, which has grown to host 5,000 attendees tasting beer from 73 breweries.

“I’ve always been more of a beer gal and this was at the beginning of the microbrew era when there were only a couple craft breweries popping up here and there – and making really good beers,” Vollendorff said. “So, I just figured I’d jump in the beer direction for a fundraiser and the rest is history.”

The growth of April Brews Day is directly correlated with the growth of the Max Higbee Center, Whiteside pointed out. Back at the beginning of April Brews Day, Max Higbee Center could hardly have programs running two nights a week. Now, there are programs every night Monday through Saturday year-round.

Movement Matters workshop at Max Higbee Center.

“The Center provides vibrant and diverse recreation programs to offer everything from outdoor activities in our seasonal Higbee Hikers Program to community exploration through our Community Access Program,” Whiteside said.

In the next year, Max Higbee Center has a primary goal of finding a larger space for their programs. As the Center grows, they are rapidly becoming too large for their downtown Bellingham space. They also hope to bridge gaps in service and become more accessible to rural areas surrounding Bellingham.

By attending April Brews Day, you are supporting Max Higbee Center in a big way. If you’d like to donate further, there are information tables at the event tomorrow with opportunities to make additional donations.

An unprecedented amount of breweries this year means an unprecedented amount of beers to pick from. It’s hard to argue with drinking good beer for a good cause. April Brews Day is from 6:30 to 10:30 pm on Saturday, April 28. We’ll see you there, Bellingham!

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