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Springfield Rotary hosts students with disabilities

Weather cuts attendance at group’s 91st consecutive Christmas party.

The Rotary Club of Springfield held its 91st consecutive Christmas party for people with disabilities at Wittenberg University’s HPER Center on Monday afternoon, the longest streak in the world, according to Executive Director for Services to People with Disabilities Bonita Heeg.

“They loved seeing Santa and getting their little gifts,” first-time volunteer Michelle Holman said. “It was great. Seeing these kids and helping these kids have a great day could warm anyone’s heart, and they deserve it.”

Dressed as one of Santa’s elves, Holman was enlisted to help by her godparents.

“I’m so glad they volunteered me for this. I hope I can come back next year,” she said.

The Rotary Club provided Christmas presents for 160 students with disabilities. However, Santa could only surprise 90 of them because of school cancellations that resulted from inclement weather in Clark County.

Nine of the 22 classrooms invited were able to attend, when usually there are about 450 people total, according to Heeg.

Springfield City Schools and Emmanuel Christian were able to attend.

The event featured a dance station, arts and crafts, a bean bag toss, candy-cane fishing, a temporary tattoo station and an area with therapeutic dogs.

Heeg said the Rotary wanted to have lots of stations this year to keep the kids active and moving during the event.

The favorite for most students was Santa’s workshop, where they received a personalized gift, followed by a show and tell station.

Each teacher submitted three gift ideas to the Rotary for every student.

The Rotary’s “elves” went shopping, and every student received one of the gifts on the list.

“I think these children really believe he is Santa, because he is not just giving them a gift, he is giving them something they really want,” Heeg said.

She said her favorite part was “watching the Rotarians get into it. Everyone was a kid today.”

The Rotary started its services for people with disabilities committee in 1919 and hosted its first party in 1923. One of the founders was the father of the man who helped Santa this year.

“Springfield Rotary really has the heart of people with disabilities in their forefront, but particularly with children,” Heeg said.

The students who were unable to attend will get their presents delivered by one of Santa’s elves today or Wednesday, Heeg said.

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