More than 20 years ago, a Carousel Ranch family decided to host a holiday event that featured the big man himself, Santa Claus.
The father of the house that was hosting dressed up as Santa Claus and asked the kids what they wanted for Christmas. The reason he did this: to give families with special-needs children an opportunity for their child to meet Santa.
Many kids get to go to the mall or various locations to meet Santa, but children with special needs are often left out of these opportunities because of the lack of understanding from these types of environments.
This Carousel Ranch father took away the Santa’s question of “what to do?” and rather showed how to do it for this special-needs population.
What started as 10 kids at one house to meet Santa turned into an entire event filled with holiday activities, and yes, still meeting Santa.
“We first started the program because there were parents who would tell us, ‘We can’t go to the mall and see Santa, can’t we just have a Santa day where everybody could see Santa and the Santa would understand this population?’” said Denise Redmond, founder of Carousel Ranch.
Carousel Ranch held its annual Santa Day on Saturday for students, alumni and families of the organization to enjoy a holiday celebration in a safe and accommodating environment.
Carousel Ranch is an organization that is dedicated to improving the lives of children and young adults with special needs through equestrian therapy and vocational training programs.
Despite the rain and some of the decorations being soaked, Santa Day didn’t skip out on any of their original plans.
“I was saying this morning, ‘It just doesn’t matter you guys, it doesn’t have to be about pretty today because what matters is we’re just here all together celebrating the holidays,’” said Redmond.
The event featured crafts, cookie decorating, the roasting of marshmallows for s’mores, refreshments, a performance by the Old Town Carolers and gifts and pictures with Santa.
Mary Hartung has been taking her son Tyler to Santa Day for 12 years now.
“It’s always a big treat for him,” said Mary. “Every year he looks forward to it.”
Tyler values this day as a day to meet Santa and reconnect with his old riding teacher Becky Graham. Mary values this day as way for Tyler to enjoy the holidays in a way that makes most sense to him.
“Everything is so paced and all of the kids just get to enjoy it at their own level,” said Mary. “This is kind of a nice thing that they can get to enjoy it, the way they want to enjoy it. For him, the highlight is always Santa, so yeah, it’s nice not to have to wait for an hour.”
“Santa is always super sweet and just very compassionate with the kids and lets them interact however they want to.”