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'The most rewarding thing'
Special needs residents spend day at Kiwanis Ogeechee fair
102010 SPECIAL NEEDS DAY 01 web
Patrick Jackson, 25, hollers "Yee Haw" while enjoying a ride on the merry-go-round as area special needs adults and children enjoy some special time at the Kiwanis Ogeechee Fair on Wednesday. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

Going to the fair is special for most people, but to someone who rarely gets out of their home, is physically or mentally unable to handle large crowds, and doesn't have many social opportunities, going to the fair is an amazing experience.

If not for the Statesboro Kiwanis Club and Amusements of America, hundreds for special needs residents in Bulloch and surrounding counties would not get to see the sights and sounds of the fair and enjoy the fair experience.

For the past 18 years, Sylvia Brown has been heading up the "special needs" day on Wednesdays at the Kiwanis Ogeechee Fair. The late-morning excursion is held when the fairgrounds are closed to others, and those with special needs can have fun, socialize and see the sights in a safe and controlled environment.

Brown took over the project 18 years ago, but the effort goes beyond that. She remembers volunteering before taking the reins of the project, and says she wouldn't change a thing.

Special needs people from "five to 50" showed up Wednesday around 10 a.m. to enjoy the day, she said. Some were in wheelchairs, others walked, but all were smiling. They came from Manassas and Glennville, Jenkins, Tattnall, Screven and Bulloch counties. In all, there were over 300 happy campers at the fairgrounds, Brown said.

The visitors were split into groups, and some watched the Fearless Flores Pirates of the Caribbean thrill show while others giggled over the racing pigs and walked away with checkered flags as souvenirs. They all enjoyed a lunch of hot dogs, chips, ice cream and drinks before taking a ride on the carousel.

As the visitors talked among themselves, words of praise and excitement were overheard, mingled with a few humorous complaints. One young lady laughed as she said "Oh no! We have to go watch those stinky pigs?" A friend assured her the pigs had bathed before the show.

"They get a chance to get out, get involved in the community," said Chris Warner, principal instructor with Jenkins County Training Center, affiliated with Ogeechee Technical College. "A lot of them don't get a chance to get out - they live in personal care homes and residential settings. This helps them get out and see what the fair is all about."

"You would think we gave them the world," Brown said. "It is a special day."

It takes about 20 Kiwanis Club members to volunteer to help serve meals and assist the visitors as they ride the carousel or enjoy the entertainment, she said. Brown praised the volunteers, most of whom have been dedicated to the project ever since she took it over.

"It's the same ones who have done this with me for years," she said. "The majority have been faithful."
As she spoke, her eyes roamed over the crowd munching on hotdogs at the Kiwanis Pancake House. "Look at them," she said. "They absolutely love it. It's the most rewarding thing we do at the fair. You leave here and say to yourself ‘Thank God we are so blessed."

George McClure has been helping with the special needs day for many years as well. Watching the visitors enjoy themselves immensely over what some would take for granted moves him, he said.

"Just to see how fortunate I am in being ‘normal,'" he said."If you had a problem child who was ‘normal' and had them out here to see these people, they'd go away with a different feeling."

Kim Jones Strickland has been working with Pineland Mental Health's High Hope program for two years, and said she wished she had discovered the position years ago.
"So many (of the consumers) don't get to go out as much, and this is an opportunity for them to see things they might not get to do. It makes their day."

That enjoyment was evident with all the smiles and laughter. As one group left the thrill show and headed for lunch, a beaming young woman greeted a news reporter who returned the greeting with a query as to how she was doing.

"I'm doing fine, I am happy," the young lady said as she clapped her hands.

Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at 912-489-9414.

Today at the Fair
     * 4 p.m. – Fairgrounds open, admission $5
     * Wrist Stamps — $18, enables bearer to ride as many rides, as many times as he or she wishes
     * 7 p.m. – Breeding Ewe and Market Lamb show in the livestock barn
     * Ride the mechanical bull. Can you last eight seconds?
     * Visit the 4-H and FFA minibooths, arts and crafts exhibits, and agriculture exhibits while enjoying cotton candy, candy apples and more.
     * The proceeds from the Kiwanis Ogeechee Fair are filtered back into the community through donations to charities, causes and special projects.

Fair Parade Float Winners
     * First Place – Believer’s Church, $400
     * Second Place — Farmers & Merchants Bank, $250
     * Third Place – Portal Middle School, $125
     * Fourth Place – Southeast Bulloch FFA, $75
     * Fifth Place – Great Beginnings Daycare - $50

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