Jay Copp 2017-05-19 16:01:25
Bob Karsc enjoys the view on the Ferris wheel ride during the Special Needs Day. Harnessed firmly in the Sizzler, Violet Van Donk, 19, smiles widely as the carnival ride hoists her toward the sky. Watching below, her mother, Vivian, is just as happy. Vivian has taken her daughter, who has Down syndrome, to the Lions’ carnival for nearly 10 years. “She gets to spend the day with her friends,” says Van Donk. “We just can’t drop her off at Great America.” This year is special: the event happens to be held on Violet’s birthday. “This is my best birthday ever,” Violet tells her mother. For 15 years the New Lenox Lions in Illinois have held their Special Needs Day for hundreds of children, teenagers and adults. The participants clamber aboard a dozen carnival rides, dance under a tent canopy to thumping music spun by a Lion-DJ and feast on hot dogs, hamburgers and pizza. It’s all free. It’s very much appreciated. Chloe Dillion rides a safe motorcycle. “There’s no judgment here,” says Traci, whose daughter, Tori, has come to the carnival for four years. “If someone has a meltdown, it’s no big deal. Everybody has been there.” Carnivals are as fun and memorable for those with special needs as anyone else, if not more so. But enjoying a family outing at an amusement park or church or community festival can be problematic. Some of those with special needs, especially those in wheelchairs, need extra time and attention to climb in a seat. The ride operators at Special Needs Day, regular workers from Windy City Amusements, are careful to assist riders and accompanying helpers as needed. Yep, it’s more fun not to hold on. “This place is awesome,” says Michaelina McGarvey waiting with her other son as her son, Koltin, 11, sits atop a brightly-painted metallic motorcycle that loops around and around. “It’s hard for him to wait [at another carnival]. There’s no extra noise to deal with. And he gets to be with his brother.” Camille Cerda, 45, who uses a wheelchair, rides the Himalaya alongside a helper. She’s the last one off the ride but eager to head to the next one. “I liked it! I’m a daredevil,” she exclaims. “I’ll go on as many rides as they put me on.” The Lions piggyback on the Proud American Days of New Lenox, an outer Chicago suburb. The town uses the tent, rides and concessions for its summer festival. The 39-member club holds their event during the day, so the grounds are ready to go for them. Making the day even less costly is that Windy City does not charge the club for using the rides or its workers. Still, it takes a village to stage the Special Needs Day. Hundreds of volunteers and staff are on hand. The participants come from Trinity Services and Lincoln Way Special Recreation Association, two groups that assist those with disabilities. Their staff comes as do Lions, firefighters, who cook hot dogs, police officers, who serve up popcorn, and employees from nearby St. Joseph Medical Center, who cook hamburgers, as well as emergency response team personnel. The event grew out of the club’s monetary support of Trinity Services. Lions wanted to do something more hands-on, something with more of an impact. The initial Special Needs Day was a small affair with a boom box and many less participants. Now those who come eagerly look forward to it, a day unlike any other for them. On this day the dance area under the tent is full as Lion John Lucas, a past president, plays the infectious “Happy” by Pharrell Williams. Dancing with one another in clumps, with another person, with a volunteer or even alone, the participants feel the rhythm of the song pulsing from the 10-foot high speakers and shimmy, sway and shake to the music. “Just look at everyone. They’re all having a great time,” observes Dave Wheeler, president and a past district governor. In a few hours the grounds will host the Proud American Days, but for now the pride is all with the Lions. “It’s just a great day,” says Lion Lynn Eckhardt, the event chairperson. “I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else but here.” Koltin McGarvey, 11, is “in the moment”—and lovin’ it—while on a ride. Marty Buno’s “souvenir” is plain to see. Attendee Martin Dale Krueger and Pam Vinson take a spin on the dance floor.
Published by International Association of Lions Clubs . View All Articles.
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