Special-needs games nights resume in Crestview

Donations of snacks, prizes being accepted

Brian Hughes | Special to the News Bulletin

CRESTVIEW — When the excited cry of “bingo!” resounds from within the eager throng at the Crestview Police Department’s newly restarted monthly games nights for special needs residents, the prizes that winners take home come from a very special place: local donors’ hearts.

Crestview Police Community Services Officer Wanda Hulion, right, plays a matching card game with a guest at the first special needs games night June 2018. Donations of snacks, drinks and door prizes make the monthly events, which are restarting Nov. 19, a success.

The games nights are supported entirely by donations. Since their inception in June 2018 until a several-month interruption because of COVID-19 restrictions, the evenings of table and floor games have been enjoyed by a core group of 20 to 25 guests.

With special precautions, including social distancing, the popular games nights resume Nov. 19, and regular attendees can’t wait to resume, Crestview Police Community Services Officer Wanda Hulion said. For the first gathering in a long time, games night will be special, she said.

John, a guest at an October 2018 T-ball special needs games night, prepares to smack a homer as a Crestview firefighter coaches. The Nov. 19 resumption of games nights takes place at the Spanish Trail Park ball field.

While this month’s games night will be 5-7 p.m. Nov. 19 in the Spanish Trail Park ball field, they are generally held the third Thursday of the month at Warriors Hall in the Whitehurst Municipal Building. They are open to any special needs teen or adult, who must be accompanied by their caregivers.

The evening will feature a T-ball game in Spanish Trail Park at the ball field nearest Industrial Drive to allow social distancing. Cornhole games also will be available.

Because bingo isn’t practical in the ball field, door prizes will be awarded by raffle, with each attendee receiving a free ticket.

Crestview firefighters play cornhole with a young guest at a 2019 special needs games night.

The events, which are co-hosted by firefighters from the Crestview Fire Department, are possible because of door prizes, snacks and drinks donations. No taxpayer dollars are expended on them. Many of the police officers and firefighters who take part are off duty and do so out of their commitment to the community.

Donated bingo prizes cover a table as special needs guests and caregivers play table and floor games with Crestview police officers and firefighters in 2019.

Others stop by during a lull in their shifts to play games with the guests and help fulfill one of the event's primary goals: to show special needs residents that firefighters and police officers are their friends.

“In case they ever need to encounter them in an emergency situation, our hope is they’ll say, ‘Oh yeah, I play games with them,’” Hulion said.

Hulion and her Community Services partner, Officer Sam Kimmons, started the games nights after discussing services needed for the special needs community with local social services organizations. The fire department signed on immediately.

“We always enjoy taking part in them,” Fire Captain Corey Winkler said. “We look forward to playing with our friends in the special needs community again.”

Donations of snacks, water or soft drinks and new, unopened prizes for the raffle are welcome and can be brought to the Crestview Police Department in the Whitehurst Building, 211 Stillwell Blvd., at any time.

Brian Hughes is the city of Crestview's public information officer.