From noon till 3 p.m. Friday the grounds of the annual summer celebration in New Lenox was dedicated as a free day for people with special needs.
Between 700-800 people, mostly from Lincoln Way Special Recreation Association and Trinity Services, were treated to a free lunch, carnival rides and dancing. New Lenox Lions Club Event Chair Lynn Eckhardt said this is the 11th year that the organization has sponsored the event to serve a specific population. "We do it along with the , which gives us the space and volunteers," he said.
The idea to host an afternoon of fun for those with special needs is one way of "giving back. It's basically giving people that normally don't have a day to get to a festival an opportunity to go to a carnival."
Eckhardt said people with special needs frequently avoid festival crowds because they can't readily move on or off the rides as fast as others. It takes patience and time to help some of these participants move into small spaces and to get strapped in.
The midway and carnival staff from Windy City Amusements in St. Charles takes special care to help with loading and unloading the people with special needs, added Eckhardt. "They belt them in tight."
By dedicating a single day for them alone to enjoy, families with a child with special need have a "chance to go on the rides together. For a lot of them, this is the first time that the child with special needs can be with the other kids in the family" on the Tilt-A-World or a roller coaster, said Eckhardt.
"There was one mother last year who had tears in her eyes" when she learned that her daughter, a 40-year-old woman with special needs, would actually have an opportunity to get on a ride. "She said to me "my daughter would love to get on that ride.' And I said, 'why isn't she then?'"
What makes the day especially positive for the kids with special needs is the fact that the event is dedicated to serving them. "They're with their peers, dancing and laughing."
Dozens of volunteers are on-hand to help the day run smoothly, he said. The came out to make hot dogs for them, and the volunteers from Provena St. Joseph Medical Center came over to grill hamburgers.
A professional disc jockey, Rick Williams, owner of Orland Park's Chicago Music Machine, brought his staff and played music so everyone could dance. "I've been volunteering for 11 years. It's one of the best crowds I play for throughout the year. I wouldn't miss it.
"I see a lot of the same faces year after year. I learned their requests, fast and upbeat music," he said.
Laura Anderson, of New Lenox, brought her son, 16-year-old Jacob Anderson. "Oh it's so special when they get the kids out and you see the smiles on their faces. It makes their day; it makes my day too," she said.
Staff from the LWSRA joined in the fun on the dance floor. Everyone was up and swaying to the music. They learned the steps to the macarena.
LWSRA staff member Tami Pareti said, "It's a lot of fun. It's great for them to have a day all to themselves."
Mike Thorne, president of the New Lenox Lions Club, said the day is always a successful one. "It's great to be out here the kids."