The Rotary Club of Cincinnati has been throwing a Christmas party for children with disabilities for more than 100 years, so a pandemic and distancing requirements wasn’t going to stop it this year.
More than 120 students received gifts and enjoyed dancing elves in masks, costumed mascots and yuletide treats at the Rotary Club’s first “drive-through Christmas” at Roselawn Condon School.
The school serves children with significant disabilities and other special needs from across the city. For some families, the Rotary’s annual celebration brings the child’s only Christmas gifts said Terri Boeing of Anderson Township, who co-chaired the party with fellow Rotarian Brad Green of Evendale. Lauren Borcherding, lead multiple disabilities teacher at Roselawn Condon School, coordinated for the school.
“The kids look forward to this every year,’ said Borcherding. “So often our students can be overlooked or left out of things,” she said. “People aren’t sure how to include our children.”
Some students have intellectual and/or physical disabilities. Some use wheelchairs or other mobility or breathing assistance. But they are still kids who want to be kids, Borcherding said.
“The Rotary understands. The Rotary Club (of Cincinnati) has been there since the beginning,” Borcherding said. “They paid teachers to go into the hospital with medically fragile kids when there were no schools for them. Even before other people saw it, the Rotary knew these children were owed an education.”
The Rotary Club of Cincinnati created those first in-hospital classes for children with disabilities in Cincinnati more than 100 years ago. Those classes and the ongoing Rotary support providing teachers and supplies eventually became the Condon School for Crippled Children, which today is the Roselawn Condon School serving children with a wide range of special needs.
“The Rotary is always there for us,” said Borcherding. “At the beginning of this year the Rotarians gave us all masks and appreciation gifts for the teachers. The Rotary’s Christmas party has become a tradition.”
Past Rotary Christmas parties at Roselawn Condon School included crafts, games sing-alongs, and Santa delivering gifts. More than 50 Rotary members would help children assemble fire trucks, unwrap dolls and try on new coats.
“This year we couldn’t have that close contact, so we really worked hard to make this party something special while meeting all the health requirements.” said Boeing. “Our motto this year was ‘Yes, Rotarians, there is a Santa and we are him.’”
More than 100 Rotarians bought gifts, filling wish lists that had been compiled by the children and their teachers.
“People don’t realize how important that gift is,’ said Borcherding. “We teach through play. Children learn functional skills dressing a doll or manipulating toys.”
As families in cars arrived in the school parking lot, costumed mascots danced and waved. Gifts were arranged by classroom.
“The cars drove up, the teachers found their gifts and brought them to Santa to give to the children,’ said Boeing. In-person participation was limited to a small handful of Rotarians including co-chairs Boeing and Green, Bob McElroy of Anderson Township as Santa, Angie Fischer of Wyoming and Ali Hubbard of Pleasant Ridge as elves, and Nancy and Jerry Riesz of North Bend who brought their Great Pyrenees dog dressed in an Elf costume. Rotary Foundation president Carl Kappes dressed as Mighty Mouse to greet the students.
The school is doing virtual learning, so when the children saw their teachers their faces lit up, Boeing said.
Smiles turned to cheers when they saw Santa.
Third grader Kennedy Ross was not physically able to make the trip, so her mother, Kiara Whitmeyer of Roselawn, arranged a virtual visit with Santa, holding up her cell phone so Santa could talk with Kennedy.
Not all families have cars or were able leave home or work to join the drive-through. Teachers and Rotary volunteers delivered their packages.
Co-chair Brad Green has been participating in the Christmas event for more than a decade. “The Condon party is what starts my Christmas,” he said.
“My kids help shop for the presents. This year my kids wrapped the presents for the students. This party is a gift from every Rotary family to every child,” Green said.
“Seeing their smiles – that’s a gift for us.”