Carly Larkin and Justin Cooper were admiring the artwork at VisAbility Art Lab in Rockville last year when they came across a painting of a mermaid that caught their attention. They had no idea they knew the artist—until she happened to walk up to them.
“Total small world,” Carly says. “My sister went to Ivymount with Faith, so I’ve known Faith ever since she was little.” Faith McLuckie, a Main Street member and front desk associate, is one of the art lab’s featured artists; she’s also a cheerleader and Special Olympics athlete. That day, Carly and Justin talked with Faith about her art, and about her job at Main Street. They told her they were getting married soon at VisArts, and asked if she wanted to design a table runner for their wedding. The custom runner would be integrated into their ceremony and then transformed into a guest book—everyone would sign the back of it.
“Yes!” she said, excited and amazed.
Carly and Justin wanted their wedding to reflect who they are, they say, and one of the things they value most is inclusivity. Carly’s younger sister and best friend, Hannah (pictured above in lavender), has intellectual and physical disabilities. Born with spina bifida and hydrocephalus, she’s had more than 40 brain surgeries and as a child spent a year re-learning how to walk and talk. Carly remembers trips to the playground when they were young, how Hannah always wanted to be a part of everything.
“We’d take her out of her wheelchair and put her right in the middle of the sandbox with all the other kids,” Carly says. “She’s never an observer in life, she’s an active participant.” It was Hannah who helped inspire the Olney couple’s decision to make a meaningful donation when they got married—a decision that brought them to Main Street.
Despite a lifetime of medical complications, Hannah, now 28, likes to celebrate everything. All the time. Carly believes that’s part of how her sister gets through hardship: She understands the power of being present, a lesson she’s taught Carly. “It’s just: I’m here. It’s right now. This is guaranteed. I’m with my family. I’m singing my favorite Barney songs,” Carly says. Her sister loves everyone she meets, Carly says, and she’s full of confidence. As a child, she was always dressing up and looking in the mirror. “Society has these ridiculous concepts of what beautiful is, or what people should look like, and she said, ‘I’m gonna live life by my own rules. I know I’m beautiful and no one’s gonna tell me otherwise.’ ”
“There’s always that something you might be able to teach Hannah,” Justin adds, “but then Hannah, in turn, teaches you.”
Justin and Carly didn’t want to get married at just any venue or hire just any vendor. And they didn’t want to give out wedding favors people probably wouldn’t use. So they decided they’d put that money toward something else. “We wanted to make a donation to a local nonprofit on behalf of everyone there,” says Carly, a communications manager at the Center for Neuroscience and Regenerative Medicine. A few months after running into Faith at the art exhibit, they decided to make that donation to Main Street. At the wedding in September, guests received gift bags with a brochure about Main Street, a card for a free class, and coupons for The Soulfull Cafe.
Carly says the pandemic created a universal experience that many people in the disability community are already familiar with: isolation. She and Justin wanted to support an organization that helps to create “a place of togetherness.”
“We did a tour [of Main Street] sometime in the summer and I was just blown away,” she says. “I’m hoping people see it and want to do the same thing in their city or their community, and that it’s replicated. The one thing great thing about Main Street is it’s unique, but you also kinda want it to be like: ‘There should be a Main Street everywhere. ’ ”
Wedding photos by Mantas Kubilinskas Photography