year 2, week 49: this week i'm gonna... help all kids celebrate.
It was the holiday season almost thirty years ago, and Rich Rosenberg was the official photographer of Santa visits at the mall. His wife, Barbara, had just started working as an aide to a boy with Cerebral Palsy, which is perhaps why Rosenberg realized that he wasn’t seeing any kids with special needs getting their picture taken with Santa.
“They wouldn’t and couldn’t come to any event that was crowded and loud,” explains Rosenberg. “Kids with autism or Down Syndrome or using augmented devices - they just couldn’t come and get pictures. And so we decided to do something.”
Rosenberg created a holiday party designed specifically for children with special needs and their families in a friendly and obstacle-free space. It has grown over the years to feature crafts, homemade cookies, music, face painting, balloon blowers, a quiet reading area, and, of course, photos with Santa. Families can drop in for as long as they like, and children can experience the holidays in a way that is comfortable for them.
"It's really about normalizing and giving a child a chance to have life experiences the same as every other child," states Rosenberg.
Special Kids Day is dedicated to providing celebratory events for children with disabilities and their families in environments designed to accommodate their special needs. Started in 1990, Special Kids Day began as a holiday event that provided an opportunity for children with special needs and their families to visit Santa Claus without having to face some of the obstacles that they might encounter when trying to experience a visit with Santa in a shopping mall.
The original Special Kids Day Event counted 30 children in attendance; now, through a combined effort among local businesses, community organizations, schools, and dedicated individuals, Special Kids Day has grown to serve over 600 families in the western suburbs of Chicago.
The atmosphere at Special Kids Day is designed for kids for whom a usual holiday party is too overwhelming or technically challenging. There is no standing in long, hot, crowded lines to visit Santa, and a professional photographer will spend as long as the child and parent needs to get the right shot. Recently, Special Kids Day was able to expand its event offerings to include a Halloween dance and a summer carnival.
Events are open not only to kids with disabilities, but also to individuals of all ages with special needs, as well as families and siblings. Rosenberg is especially sensitive to the struggles that siblings can have feeling left out or unable to participate in regular events, and he takes pains to include them in the event.
“When you start to realize the circumstances that (families of kids with disabilities) are dealing with, you realize that this is something that you’re doing for your whole community,” Rosenberg says. “The day reestablishes a connection with them in the community that they often don’t have."
"It is one day, one evening, when we are eye to eye with children, reminding us all that they are a gift to us and our responsibility is to give a little back."
Notes for this week:
- International Day of People With Disabilities is December 3rd
- If you are in the Chicago area or know of a family that would like to attend this year's Special Kids Day holiday event, please click here for details!
- Our collective givetwig donation will help sponsor this year's holiday event for children with special needs and their families.
- For more information on Special Kids Day, please check out their website.
this week i'm gonna donate to Special Kids Day.