Mizel Harvest Festival includes special-needs students

On Oct. 21 at 10 a.m., the Mizel Estate hosted the Mizel Family Foundation Pumpkin Harvest Festival to provide educational and career opportunities for uniquely-abled members of our community through events, volunteering and exposure.
Suzanne Lozette, author of “Raising Owen: An Extra-Ordinary Memoir on Motherhood,” became friends with the owners of Mizel Estates when families with children with Down Syndrome were invited to visit the vineyard. She was later asked to be considered as a vendor and sell signed copies of her book, because it was released the day of the event. “I felt that my story could help other parents realize that [Owen] has succeeded because we incrementally challenged his independence when we could,” Lozette said. “He now attends Ventura College in their neuro-diverse classes, he has a part-time job and he has a lot of social activities.”
Anne Alvarez, coordinator of the event, was in charge of getting student volunteers to work with the Pumpkin Patch Professionals the day of the event. “I also worked with the Mizel Estate to get volunteers to set up the Haunted House and decorate the grounds for the event,” Alvarez said. Many of the volunteers are members of the National Honor Society, while others were part of Theater Club or wrestling.
Kaila Egans participated in the Harvest Festival as a Pumpkin Patch professional, and helped run her booth, K.E. Arts, alongside her family. Each piece of artwork in the booth contained original and prints of a variety of styles done by Kaila Egans herself. “I always have a vision of my own to create something that no one has ever seen before. I always take references from real life places or cartoons,” Kaila Egans said. “I like how the front is just a normal picture, but when you look down, things are not always as they seem.”
When Kaila Egans was in the Post Secondary Education Program, her mother, Shanna Egans, asked if she could do dual enrollment, specifically for art classes. “She was the first one to do [dual enrollment] and the university had an art gallery, so her piece was chosen as a signature piece advertising the art show at the community college,” Shanna Egans said. “And they have a sister university in Israel, and out of all the advanced art students, nine pieces were chosen. And one of her pieces was chosen to be exhibited in Israel last year.”
“Disability Does Not Disable” was the Egans’ Family motto, portraying the idea that adults like Kaila Egans, who are disabled but still have a talent, have a way to make a living and thrive with events like this supporting their growth. “We are ‘Disability Does Not Disable’ and we are trying to help her now that she has aged out of school, and be able to make a living and sell her art,” Shanna Egans said.
Lozette’s journey with her son, Owen, has inspired her in many ways. She started a journal at five weeks pregnant, but Owen was not diagnosed with Down syndrome until he was 7 days old, and it was not until 2020 when Lozette began to write her memoir and reach out. “I have met the most amazing people on this journey, people I might never have met. Owen has also been my greatest teacher. Just about every day he says the phrase ‘Today is the best day ever’,” Lozette said. “He knows how to live in the moment, which is something I am always striving to do.”