, Port Arthur, Texas

March 14, 2013

With a little help from his friends; Volunteers make festival fun for special group of kids

Mary Meaux
Port Arthur News

NEDERLAND — Carolyn Martin was pretty excited to see her son Jesse having fun at the Nederland Heritage Festival.

The wheelchair bound 12-year-old Central Middle School fifth grader doesn’t normally get a chance to ride the carnival rides but on Wednesday with a little help from some junior volunteers, Jesse did what once was not possible.

“We’ve been coming for about five years or so,” Carolyn Martin said as helpers Austin Dial and Bailey Beard conversed with Jesse and snapped photos with him. “The best part is that he gets to ride some rides. He couldn’t do that without the helpers, that’s what makes this whole thing work.”

Martin said she had tried to take him to the festival on weekends in the past but there was no way she could physically load and unload Jesse onto the rides. The volunteers also ride the rides along with their new and old friends.

But now that is possible and Jesse even has a favorite picked out — the helicopter ride.

Dial is in his fifth year and Beard is in her third year of volunteering during the special day in which a time is set aside during the NHF for special needs children. Carnival workers open the rides and games early and this year the Nederland/Port Neches Evening Optimist Club opened early to feed the kids hamburgers and hotdogs.

Over at another set of rides Tammie Marshall and Angie Glidewell watched their children, Grant Marshall, 14, and Aiden Glidewell, 4, laugh as they went around and around while seated in a small car on a children’s ride. The cousins are autistic, Tammie Marshall said, as she explained just how much the Friends of the Festival Day meant to her and her family.

“This really helps. When the kids go (to the festival) they can get sensory overloaded but with this there are only a few things going on,” Marshall said. “So when we do go at night they’ve already been here and are used to the smells and sights.”

Wanda Hollier, manager of the NHF, got the idea for the Friends Day about 20 years ago at a convention. She brought the idea back to NHF board for discussion and the issue was approved. The next step was speaking with the carnival owners who were pleased and eager to participate, she said.

“As soon as they arrive one of the first things they ask is if we’re going to have the Friends Day. A lot of these guys are from previous years and they’re not getting paid for this, they volunteer.

Hollier recalled, with emotion, of meeting a wheelchair bound girl during the first Friends day two decades ago. The child had to be placed physically onto each ride, she said.

“Afterward... I’m going to cry saying this... she asked if she could give me a hug,” Hollier said. “We hugged and she said ‘thank you,’ she’d never been able to go to a playground before. This was the first time she had been able to ride rides. It was very heart warming.”

Hollier also gave a shout-out to BASF Total Petrochemicals LLC for sponsoring the event which helps defray some of the cost. She also thanked the many volunteers and junior volunteers, some of which come back year after year.


Twitter: MaryMeauxPANews