The weather couldn’t stop the Springfield Rotary’s 97th annual Christmas Party for Children with Disabilities on Monday.
Several of the 19 participating Clark County schools were on two-hour delays Monday morning due to an overnight winter storm, but the holiday festivities were in full-force once the guest list of 140 students arrived at Wittenberg’s HPER Center.
The Christmas party is a long-awaited event every year — for both the kids and Springfield Rotarians.
This year, kids could participate in several activities such as petting therapy dogs, ice fishing for prizes and dancing to tunes for some music therapy. Each activity is tailored to any special needs a child may have.
“Springfield Rotary really works hard to make this the best party possible for them,” said Bonita Heeg, the executive director of Springfield Rotary’s Services to People with Disabilities program.
“Children with disabilities have more than orthopedic issues,” Heeg said. “There’s a lot of developmental issues — so we try to provide the Holiday Carnival that will help with that.”
But arguably the most anticipated activity for a lot of the kids was receiving a personalized gift from Santa Claus himself.
Heeg said the “Rotary Elves” work all year to find each child — in this case just over 140 — the perfect present.
For many, the holiday party may be the only time a kid gets to see Santa or open up a Christmas gift.
“It’s really heartwarming to me to see that they’re getting something they really want,” Heeg said.
Marcella Lawson said she doesn’t have a lot of dolls at home, but on Monday she got exactly what was on her wish list — “a dolly!,” she said with a smile.
Cheyenne Swords, another Christmas party attendee, said she asked Santa for Legos. She was happy to report she was going home with the building blocks in hand, but said what she was actually looking forward to the most about Christmas was “celebrating Jesus’ birthday.”
But the holiday party is also a big event that the adults look forward to.
A lot of thought is put into pairing each kid with a rotarian who would be a good fit for them to spend the afternoon together.
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Head of Ridgewood School, Aliya Ranginwala has been coming to the event for three years.
“It’s great for our business community to interact with our kids,” she said.
Her fellow rotarian, President & CEO at the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce Mike McDorman said the event gives important perspective about the kids in the community who need help.
“It’s a great way to kick off the season,” said . “I’ve had an opportunity over the last 15 to 20 years to meet a lot of special kids — and every year it’s different and every year it’s a lot of fun.”
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