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Rays players to attend crossword gala

Ashley Morales

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The nonprofit Voices of Hope for Aphasia will host its second annual Word Play gala June 6. The crossword-themed event will include appearances from two Tampa Bay Rays players. Photos provided.

An upcoming gala will raise money and awareness for a surprisingly common medical condition with the help of some familiar faces.

The second annual Word Play crossword puzzle gala will take place June 6 at Banquet Masters in Clearwater. The unique event is hosted by Voices of Hope for Aphasia, a nonprofit that connects people living with aphasia in the Tampa Bay area to resources, support and programming.

Aphasia is a language disorder that affects a person’s ability to express and understand written and spoken language. It can occur suddenly after a stroke or head injury, or develop slowly from a growing brain tumor or disease.

“The statistics are staggering,” said Voices of Hope for Aphasia Executive Director Debbie Yones. “Every 40 seconds in the United States, somebody has a stroke, and between 30% and 40% of strokes result in aphasia, so you can imagine that those numbers are really big. In fact, somewhere between two and four million people are living with aphasia, which is well over twice as many people who are living with Parkinson’s.”

Yones said aphasia is an often misunderstood condition; it is lifelong but can be treated with speech and language therapy.

“It doesn’t affect intellect, which is often masked by the fact that, if you can’t express yourself using language, then it’s hard for people to understand how smart you still are,” Yones explained. “People with aphasia didn’t lose their intelligence, their memory or their knowledge of the world – they just can’t receive and express the information like they did before.”

Voices of Hope for Aphasia hosts six core programs, including social groups and book clubs that encourage people living with the condition to continue working on their conversation skills and stay involved in the community.

The theme of language inspired the first Word Play gala in 2023, which raised more than $120,000 and enabled Voices of Hope to provide over 12,000 hours of service to more than 280 people. Yones said attendees enjoyed the competitive spirit of the event, which inspired them to bring a new element to the gala this year. 

Known for their love of crossword puzzles, Tampa Bay Rays players Pete Fairbanks and Jason Adam will participate in this year’s event. ESPN recently profiled the Rays bullpen’s crossword habit, noting that players completed the New York Times crossword puzzle “without a dictionary, thesaurus or Google … in 37 minutes.”

Yones said the Word Play gala “will be a chance to have fun while helping people with aphasia find their way back to the joy of words.”

Tickets can be purchased online at WordPlayTampaBay.com.

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