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Youth group celebrates Christmas with special needs children

Published:Saturday | December 20, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Tamara Bailey, Gleaner Writer

Big smiles, shouts of joy, and an atmosphere filled with love and contentment were the emotions that could be seen and heard as the non-profit organisation Young Women and Young Men of Purpose (YWOP/YMOP) celebrated children with special needs at the Manchester Horticultural Showground last Thursday, December 11.

The five-year-old group, in carrying out its objectives, seeks to provide career mentorship and guidance to youth in the parishes of Manchester and St Elizabeth.

"We help young women and men between the ages of 13 to 25. We call them our mentees, and each mentee is paired with a volunteer. We have general personal development sessions twice per month, and outside of that, several outreach programmes, which include a back-to-school treat, a youth health and wealth expo, and the Christmas treat we are having today," said chairman and Founder YWOP/YWOP Lanisia Rhoden.

With emphasis placed on celebrating children with special needs, over 80 children were brought in from the 3D projects, Woodlawn School of Special Education, the Santa Cruz Learning Centre, and the Caribbean Christian Centre for the Deaf to enjoy the festivities.

Games, music, singing, and dancing contests, gifts from Santa, and lots of food occupied the children for the entire day, giving the parents who work 24 hours a day caring for their children, much needed relaxation time.

"We see that some children with special needs aren't really seen on the roads with their parents. They aren't usually taken to restaurants or taken out for that matter, so we thought that we would have a treat to fête and pamper them to make them feel special ... . The first treat we had we got Burger King on board and they allowed the kids to go in and dine in their restaurant. Now we are doing it bigger and better and with more children"

Digicel, which sponsored over 100 toys along with the assistance of the Manchester Cooperative Credit Union, Power Services Company Limited, JMMB, a Brighter Day Foundation, and Fontana Pharmacy, in other segments of the event, made the outreach possible.

accommodating group

"I have been here since its inception, and I am grateful for it. It's something to look forward to, and though my son has severe cerebral palsy, I think he's actually happy being here ... . My other son has a recital today, but I chose to come here because I know this is the only Christmas treat event that could really accommodate a child with special needs," stated parent Smith Simpson.

For parent Chanice Taylor, the event is not something looked forward to by her child, but, actually, by her.

"My child doesn't have a special need, but I do. I have 'Spina bifida', and I'm just so thrilled that they have this event for me to just take a breather and come enjoy it. You don't find a lot of these kinds of programmes in Mandeville and I just want to say kudos to Lanisia and her team for having it ... ."

Rhoden, who has always been involved in community service and youth development, said giving back is her responsibility.

"Not only do you get a chance to give back to the less fortunate, but you also help to build and develop yourself as an individual. Sometimes we may be in situations and we think that we are the worst, and when you take a deeper look, you realise that there are other persons who may not be as fortunate as you are, whether physically or financially, so it is always good for us to look out for those persons who are in need of help. Put a smile on a face, give a hug and make someone's day brighter."