Photo: The Gadsden City High School Titan Danceline performs at the Exceptional Children’s Christmas Party on December 19. (Emma Kirkemier/Messenger)
By Emma Kirkemier, News Editor
Special needs children from across the Gadsden City School System recently attended an accessible Christmas party.
The Venue at Coosa Landing was filled not only with Christmas decorations, but with enormous inflatable dinosaurs and many dino-themed decorations, according to the theme: “All kids are dinomite.”
Pastor Rita Smith of New Destiny Christian Church hosted the first Exceptional Children’s Christmas Party and COVID Awareness event on December 19.
“I work with special needs children for Gadsden City School System, and I have a heart for children,” Smith said. “This time of year can be challenging for them to go to the mall or to go to Walmart because sometimes they’re very sensitive to things like that, so I thought, ‘What about a Christmas party just for them?’”
The event featured a special performance by the Gadsden City High School Titan Dance Line, visits with Santa and the Grinch, food, inflatables and a gift for each child in attendance.
“(It is) just a night out for them,” Smith said. “And they can bring their family. I didn’t want to just make it all exceptional, special needs kids, but I wanted them to play with their siblings and their cousins, so we opened it up to the city.”
Sponsors of the event included New Destiny Christian Church; City of Gadsden District 2 Councilman Steve Smith; former District 2 Councilman Deverick Williams; Boss Relationships, LLC; the University of Alabama at Birmingham; the City of Gadsden and Smith’s own foundation, Family Development Empowerment Corp.
“I received a grant from UAB for COVID awareness, so I decided to couple that together with my foundation so that we could support and pay for (this event for) special needs children,” Smith explained.
A display on The Venue screens showed information on preventing the spread of COVID-19, and event managers gave out sanitizers and masks at the door. Smith said she wanted it to be completely accessible to all Gadsden families, without parents having to worry about accessibility restrictions for their children or the risk of disease for those with weakened immune systems.
“I am so happy,” Smith said. “I know I’m going to cry when I get home at just the idea of it because they are so often pushed aside, and I wanted this opportunity to love on them.”