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Labor of love

During the week of the Kiwanis Ogeechee Fair, most folks get at least one chance to visit the annual event, whether it be for the rides on the midway, the food, or the entertainment and exhibits. However, not everyone is afforded that opportunity due to physical and mental limitations.
    That's why the Statesboro Kiwanis Club holds a "Labor of Love" day each year during the fair week so citizens with special needs can experience the excitement and thrills of the fair without having to encounter the public.
    The event has grown over the years, said organizer Sylvia Brown, who has led the efforts for the last 18 years.
    "I call this 'Labor of Love Day' because it's the most important thing we do the week of the fair," she said. "You look at their faces, and they're so happy."
    The consumers, ranging in ages from kindergarten students to elderly, arrive on buses. Some are already excited, while others are reserved. Some are mentally and emotionally challenged but physically fit, while others are of normal mentality but are trapped in physically disabled bodies. All appear thrilled as they devour the sights at the fair grounds.
    The clapping and cheering began before the Fearless Flores Circus and Thrill Show started, and when a juggler came out from behind the curtain, everyone was spellbound.
    The visit is especially good for consumers with challenges who are trying to learn skills for living on their own in society, said Adelia Rogers, site manager for Pineland Mental Health's  adult day program.  Consumers with the program learn daily living, learnings, social and work skills and getting the chance to attend the fair is advantageous, she said.
    "This is in with their learning and leisure," she said. "A lot of them would not get to come to the fair otherwise. The Kiwanis Club is always good to do this. It puts (the consumers) into the community. A lot of them need community integration."
    After watching the jugglers and other thrill show acts, the group made their ways to the carousel, where Kiwanis members helped them onto gaily-painted horses and into seats.
    Those who were already smiling laughed with glee and yelled "yee haw," prompted by club member Dan Foglio, who appeared to be having as much fun himself as the visitors.
    As the steeds charged around the circle, some visitors laughed while others patted their horse's plastic rumps in playful attempt to make the ride go faster. Some riders were stoic at first, but as the ride progressed, the enthusiasm of the others was contagious, and everyone was all smiles as the ride ended.
    The carousel ride was an emotional one for a number of Kiwanis Club members and volunteers, as was evident by the tears wiped away surreptitiously after some members received hugs from the visitors.
    Then it was time for lunch.
    Since there were so many visitors - about 350 - the days' events were taken in shifts, Brown said. She and other club members and volunteers handed the visitors plates of hot dogs, chips, cups of ice cream for dessert and ice cold drinks.
    If local schools had been in session this week, there would have been about 100 more students attending, she said.
    "This originally started with only High Hope," she said. "But word got out and people would call and I just can't say no."
    But next year, there may be a limit and some counties who have been included may not be able to visit due to space and time limitations, she said.
    "We can only do 350," Brown said, pointing out the obvious as club members scrambled to cook the hot dogs, fill plates, distribute them and then pick up empty plates so the next crew could eat.
    It is difficult to say no to some, but Brown said those from Bulloch County and nearby counties will be served first.
    "This is where it gets you," said club member Harry Wachniak as he watched the visitors enjoy  themselves. "This makes it all worthwhile."
    The Kiwanis Ogeechee Fair is open through Saturday, with gates opening at 4 p.m. today and Friday and at 1 p.m. Saturday.
    Admission is $5, and wrist stamps can be purchased tonight and Saturday for $18, and Friday from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. for $13. The stamps enable bearers to ride any midway ride as many times as they wish for that night only.

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