Students enjoy special day at the fair
Aiken Standard - 10/25/2017
Oct. 25--Dozens of workers at the Western Carolina State Fair reported for duty earlier than usual Tuesday, for the benefit of about 500 students and adults involved in local schools' special education programs.
The gates usually open in the afternoon, but Tuesday's schedule included a mid-day stretch of open time in partnership with local Special Olympics boosters, to allow a relatively peaceful, non-congested time for visitors.
"We have over 500 kids out here that we're entertaining on our dime," said Tommy Molony, the fair manager, who said the event dates back "three or four years."
"It's all about giving back to the kids that need special assistance, and ... it's a special day for them. It's a special day for us. You have a lot of kids out here who, with the general population out here, it's just too much for them to handle," he said.
Many of the fair's rides and some food booths were in action, under the guidance of Amanda Dennis, director of the fair's large-group administration. Her guest list this year included students from elementary, middle and high schools from both Aiken and Barnwell counties, along with clients of Tri-Development.
"I have a special-needs child myself," Dennis said. "It's very hard to bring a child out here that gets over-stimulated, so it's a good day. There can be a smaller-crowd day. They can have great fun. There's all kids that are the same as them, so it just makes a really fun day, and these are all kids that might not get to come to the fair."
"She's done a fantastic job, and it's growing every year," Molony said, referring to Dennis. "We're up to 500 this year, and expect growth for next year."
Brittney Jackson, who teaches special education at South Aiken High School, said her students gave the visit a thumbs-up review.
"They said they had a blast riding the rides. They had fun walking around with their friends and their buddies. Overall, it was like one of their best days," she said.
Among the event's escorts was 2016 Midland Valley High School graduate Kelsey Cook, now an Aiken Technical College student. Referring to her special-needs neighbors, she said, "They just touched my heart in so many ways in high school, and I just can't let them go, and I still try to come see them as much as I can."
Dennis added, "We got plenty of hugs and high-fives and fist pumps ... I think next year, it's probably going to be even bigger. That's what we want. That way, every special-needs child has a chance to come."
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