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Kids with special needs get a special Christmas

By KBell
Dec. 16, 2010 at 6:16 a.m.

(LEFT) Students from St. Joseph High School serve pizza to families who came to pick up their gifts. The Christmas Project is a joint effort between Health Force Pediatric Rehabilitation Center and St. Joseph High School. There were about 100 pizzas ready to serve to the guests.

The energy could be felt wallowing out of the doors propped open at Club Westerner Thursday night.

Kids slid on their knees across the dance floor, barely stopping short of an upbeat dance performance from Mr. and Mrs. Claus; onlookers alternated smiles with bites of pizza served by more than 100 students from St. Joseph High School; and perhaps most excited of all about the stage pouring over in gifts were two adults in the middle of the room.

"I got goosebumps just talking about it," said Stephanie Hessler, an occupational therapist with Health Force Pediatric Rehab Services.

She was with the center's owner, Lita Pappillion at its "at least 12th" annual Christmas celebration to benefit families who have kids with special needs.

Hessler was wide-eyed when talking about a special bicycle she had found for a kid who otherwise wouldn't be able to afford it, even with insurance.

"We adopt kids with special needs so they can have the same experience as other kids, like riding a bike," Hessler explained.

Pappillion hurried at the chance to show off the three-wheel, heavy-duty bike, hidden underneath a giant cardboard box in the corner of the room.

"We establish a close bond with the families and kids, so it's not hard to know what they're going to like," Hessler said.

The lucky recipient of the bike was Heaven Lockhart.

Lockhart's great-grandmother, Dorothy Baker, said she's certain the 14-year-old will enjoy the gift since she rides one just like it inside the hallways of Gonzales Middle School

"She doesn't like to go outside much, but this will help get her out of the house some."

Baker said she looks forward to her great-granddaughter riding around their house in the country, just like her grandchildren used to.

Hearing about the experiences of kids like Lockhart inspired a group of seven freshmen from St. Joseph High School to get involved with this year's celebration.

"You hear stories, but you don't realize what they experience until you really do it," Gracyn McCarty said.

McCarty was with six other girls who decided to adopt a family this year.

"We want to help everyone out because we have it so good," the group's leader, Anastasia Monroy said.

Each of the students went shopping for three gifts, mostly girl clothes and accessories, for their family.

While they said shopping was, of course, fun, they were most excited to see the families receive their gifts.

"It's a lot better doing this than studying for finals," Monroy joked.



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