Editor’s Note: This continues our Celebrate Community series on nonprofit organizations that improve North Okaloosa County residents’ quality of life.
CRESTVIEW — Elks Lodge 2624's Exceptional Children's Day returns this weekend.
The event is 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. May 13 on Elks Lane in Crestview for all children with special needs and their families. The public may also attend. Hot dogs, hamburgers and chicken nuggets, drinks and snow cones will be served. All activities, performances, food and drink are free of charge for attendees.
The event is funded by a grant from the Elks Lodge National Foundation, and fundraisers Lodge 2624 holds throughout the year.
"We love what we do and we feel like we're giving back to our communities," Crestview Elks Lodge member Betty Clark said.
"We spend every dime of it for the kids. Some of these children do not want to make eye contact, but they're amazing, because of the arts and crafts that they do and the abilities that they have that people don't realize."
While the first Exceptional Children's Day in 2014 was solely for children with autism and their families, the program was expanded to include the families of all children with special needs, according to Brad Burnette, executive director of Autism Spectrum on the Emerald Coast.
"They all need a day to come out, stop worry about therapy sessions and just enjoy themselves," Burnette said. "These kids are going to occupational therapy and physical therapy and speech therapy. They need a time where they can just come and be kids."
Activities include water slides, bounce houses and face painting and live entertainment.
Elks Lodge member Betty Clark said one of the most anticipated appearances at the event is Reid Soria of Autism Sings LLC.
"He is just awesome," Clark said. "He is an outstanding young man. He's 31 years old and his parents have just absolutely found his niche. He knows 3,000 songs, all the words. He loves entertaining … He came out of his shell when he started entertaining audiences and singing."
Doctors diagnosed Soria with autism at age 3 and gave his parents little hope that he would progress, according to Soria's biography at www.autismsings.net. His parents and relatives never gave up hope. They accidentally discovered he could sing over five years ago, and since then, Soria has performed in musical productions and on stages throughout Florida.
Another appearance attendees will enjoy is a performance by Captain Davy and Crew, Clark said. Balloon sculpting, magic, and face painting are among the skills they bring to the stage.