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Special needs Christmas party makes the season bright for many

 

By Melissa Robinson
Contributing Editor 

  Dancing, karaoke and plenty of presents made the “Kindness Works Christmas Party,” held for the special needs community, a huge hit last Saturday. Nearly a hundred invited guests, along with their siblings and volunteers turned out for the celebration where partiers did the Cupid Shuffle, sang Christmas carols, ate, drank and made merry at the McDonough Christian Church on Jonesboro Road.

Organizer Dana Fessler, guest Aleshia McCartney and volunteer buddy Ashleigh Krilla, having a great time at the Kindness Works Christmas Party.                             Photo by Melissa Robinson

  This is the 10th year for the Kindness Works Christmas Party, where churches, civic groups and other volunteers come together to offer not only a fun and festive party for those in the special needs community, but a welcome respite for parents and caregivers, delicious food and drink and even a visit from old St. Nick himself. The party was at no cost to parents and each guest, ranging in age from five to adult, left with a giant shopping bag of goodies and gifts to make the season bright. Guests also enjoyed arts and crafts, bounce houses and most importantly, fellowship with old and new friends. Each guest was paired up with a volunteer buddy to assist them, assuring a safe, positive and fun experience.

  According to Debbie Withers, one of the event’s organizers, the Christmas party was started a decade ago by a Girl Scout troop, led by troop leader Dana Fessler, for their service project. They had five participants that year.

  “Dana and her daughter’s Girl Scout troop began this party and it has just grown so much since the very beginning,” said Withers. “This has grown throughout the years and we have double the number of guests from last year.”

  Fessler said although it’s not Girl Scout related anymore, it has continued to grow and be successful because of the community support behind it.  She credits hundreds of volunteers, including members of the Rotary Club, the Lions Club, the Boy Scouts troops 11 and 99, the McDonough Junior Women’s Club and many more.

   “There are really a couple of hundred people who make this work,” she said.

  She also credits Cindy Carter, who began the Sunshine League for special needs athletes, and Kit Welch, who is responsible for Kindness Works Week, for helping to grow and support the event.

  She said not only is the party great for the participants, but it gives their families a chance to go off and get some time for themselves, while knowing that their children are well taken care of and safe.

  “A few parents stay, especially if it’s the first year for their child, but they just can’t say enough. They are just so appreciative. When you have a special needs child, you have such little time to yourself, just to shop or run errands. The parents look forward to it and the kids look forward to it all year,” said Fessler.

  Parent Kathy Toreno said her daughter Katie has been coming to the party since the very beginning- and it’s something they wait for all year.

  “She started talking about it a week before, and every year it’s become bigger and bigger. I got so much done today and didn’t have to worry about her. It just means a lot to us. We love it,” she said.

  Katie, who was busy for much of the day dancing and socializing, topped off the party by singing Jingle Bells during karaoke.

  “This is the best Christmas party ever,” said Katie.

  Toreno said what really impresses her are the young volunteers who give up their time to make this a special day for her daughter and the other guests.

  “Every year it just gets better and better, but it’s these young kids who give up their Saturday and volunteer, it just melts my heart,” she said. “And they have so much fun and cannot wait to be with our kids.”

Makayla Winters, a seventeen year-old junior from Ola High School in McDonough said she volunteers because it’s so much fun.

  “I volunteer a lot but this is my first time volunteering here. I found out about it because we have a lady who prays with us at cheerleading and she asked if I wanted to do it. I had a great time,” said Winters. “I love seeing the smiles on the kids’ faces.”

  Withers said that the event is free and made possible by the donations they receive.

  Although neither Fessler of Withers have a special needs child, they love being a part of the Christmas party and say they get more out of it than they give.

“I get emotional talking about it. It’s very gratifying,” said Fessler, who is a member of McDonough Christian Church, which has a special needs ministry.

  “It’s so much fun for us and it’s so uplifting to be a part of this great celebration,” said Withers.

 

 

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