0930 GMT October 23, 2019
But the annual holiday party for about 75 children at KidsAbility in Waterloo on Saturday morning was as much a gift to their parents, therecord.com reported.
For 11 years, staff and volunteers have given their time to host dozens of children with special needs and their siblings, giving their parents a bit of a break in the process.
For parents of children with complex needs, finding a few hours to take care of even basic tasks or errands can be next to impossible. That's where KidsAbility's Oh Christmas free event comes in.
For three hours on Saturday, parents could leave their children in the capable, caring hands of approximately 100 staff and volunteers while getting just a little respite.
"For some families, this is the first time they feel they can even leave their child," said KidsAbility's chief executive officer, Linda Kenny.
"We take that trust really seriously. We want to make sure that the kids have the best morning, and families have that opportunity to have a little break."
Thanks to the volunteers and sponsors Great-West Life and Conestoga Mall, KidsAbility could offer free games and entertainment, crafts and cookie decorating – even a visit from Santa himself.
Children could ‘shop’ for a gift for their parents, choosing from items donated by staff, and went home with little Christmas treats of their own. Families also received Conestoga Mall gift cards.
"It really is a community effort to pull this off," Kenny said.
KidsAbility helps nearly 8,000 children and youth with special needs and their families every year in Waterloo Region, Guelph and Fergus. Despite government funding and annual fundraising efforts, there are still more than 1,300 children on a waiting list for KidsAbility services.
Michele Way glanced into a room filled with children hard at work on crafts and coloring, and smiled. "It really is unbelievable."
She and her family have been volunteering at the event for several years; her husband, Rob, is a board member for the KidsAbility Foundation.
"Every child here is a special child," she said. "Everyone that comes is made to feel special."
In one of her first years at the event, Way was looking after two siblings, a boy and a girl. When their parents returned, the mother had tears in her eyes.
"I still get choked up," Way said. "They had a morning to do their Christmas shopping and have a coffee. They knew they were bringing their children to a fun, safe place … And we just knew. We were hooked."