In 2011, Susie was a 13-year-old student enrolled at the Elizabeth Lee Black School at the Barber National Institute in Erie, PA. One winter day, while chatting with her mom about the school holiday events, she mentioned that Susie had never been able to visit Santa. Over the years, her mom tried to take Susie to the mall to see Santa, but the large crowds, loud noises and waiting in line would lead to behavioral outbursts. This part of the holiday season seemed out of reach for Susie and her mom until her mom learned about a unique event. The Barber National Institute and Millcreek Mall were teaming up to provide children with special needs an opportunity to enjoy one of the holiday’s joyous memories, sitting on Santa’s lap.
Susie and her mom arrived at the mall at the start of the event and right away her mom noticed a difference. The music was turned off, the lights were dim and the crowd smaller. Children participated in craft activities instead of waiting in line. When a child’s number was called, it was their special time to see Santa. One thing did remain the same, Santa in his bright red suit, sat in his chair smiling and encouraging children to share a wish or two with him. When Susie’s mom heard their number called, she couldn’t believe her eyes. Susie, smiling, walked up to visit with Santa. No tantrums, crying or frustration. Pure joy. Susie’s mom was so grateful that this special time had been arranged and as she told me her story, her eyes swelled with tears. Her dream came true, as her daughter visited Santa for the first time!
We continue this holiday tradition on Sunday, Dec. 2 from 10-11:30 a.m. in the center concourse at the Millcreek Mall with holiday crafts, information for parents and of course, photographs with Santa. Santa’s helpers will take photos and offer a $2 off coupon to parents. The event is free and open to the public. If your mall doesn’t offer such an event, I’d encourage you to contact them to see if it’s possible. We found that the Millcreek Mall staff were pleased and excited to work with us to offer this event.
As we prepare for Santa’s visit on Sunday, I’m reminded of the joy that Susie’s mom experienced and look forward to seeing that on the faces of families this year. The event celebrates the spirit of the holiday season and brings a small, but memorable part of the holidays to children with special need.