Holiday event for those with special needs marks 50 years
Over 100 people gathered with the Kiwanis Club of Emmaus to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the John Heim Special Needs Christmas Party.
The party was held Dec. 14 at St. John’s Lutheran UCC, in Emmaus.
The evening began with a prayer of thanks presented by Kiwanis volunteer, Lorena Wetherhold, of Emmaus. She and co-chair Linda Salter, also of Emmaus, are two of the 38 club members.
Pat Rhoads, of Coopersburg, sat at the registration table to check in the invitees on her list. She called family members of those with special needs to invite them and their loved ones to the annual party.
“I call families and see what they would like. Some of these kids are looking forward to this since August,” Rhoads said.
Rhoads and fellow volunteer Alisha Keiser, both of Emmaus, shopped for personalized party gifts for guests. A few of the gifts included clothing and gift certificates. The Kiwanis Club of Emmaus uses money raised from fundraisers throughout the year and donations from local sponsors.
Many partygoers mingled while sampling a light assortment of snacks and soft-drinks. Ice cream sundaes were served for dessert. The Key Club, a branch of the Kiwanis Club from Emmaus High School, helped decorate, worked in the kitchen and served patrons.
Applause filled the fellowship hall as Santa, assisted by Drew Wesnack and Mrs. Claus, assisted by Sharron Wesnack, both of Emmaus made their way through the door with their pack of merry elves Dave Schiaffo as Buddy, Sue Wesnack as Snowflake and Paul Wesnack as Scooter. Santa, Mrs. Claus and the elves host local Christmas charities each year.
After Santa appeared, it was time to distribute gifts. Those who registered were called individually to the front of the stage to receive their package, a candy cane and a chance to sit on Santa’s’ lap.
Disc jockey Dylan Walker, of Macungie, from Wesley Works, played a mix of upbeat tunes for the all ages group. Songs included “YMCA” by the Village People, Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” and “Locomotion.” During “Locomotion,” dancers held others shoulders at they circled the floor. A few Christmas favorites were played as well such as “Deck the Halls” and “Joy to the World.” Members of the Key Club joined the dancing and encouraged other partygoers to participate.
Amy Kisenbauer, of Lower Macungie Township, one of the attendees, energetically joined the dancers. Her mom, Randi Haberbosch commented on the party.
“We see some of the same families every year. This is amazing!”
The first Kiwanis Club of Emmaus party was organized by then President, Stanley T, Holmes Jr., of Emmaus, in 1966. Holmes attended this year’s party and has been a Kiwanis member for 56 years.
“The first party was chartered by the Quakertown Kiwanis Club and was held in Emmaus. Bennet Gerhart, a member of the Quakertown club, started it because he helped people with special needs in the community. He would set up transportation for special needs people. He got the Moravian Church in Emmaus to host the party and then it went to St. Johns’ Lutheran in Emmaus,” Holmes said.
Holmes said originally, the Emmaus police donated gifts for the party. Recently the club became a foundation and is looking for donations.
“We used to have some productions where we showed movies. One time we made believe Santa flew in on an airplane and we had a police car with lights outside to introduce his arrival.” Holmes recalled.
Anne Zimmerman, of Emmaus, is the current president of the Emmaus Kiwanis Club and has been a part of the organization for over 12 years. She explained who attends the yearly party.
“We do it for anyone with special needs. Anyone with any physical, mental or challenge of any kind is welcome,” Zimmerman said.
Zimmerman recounted the highlights of parties from years gone by. “One year we had a professional storyteller. She came in costume and the people loved it. We’ve had comics, magicians but the biggest thing is the best thing, is seeing them (the guests) happy.”
For more information on the Kiwanis Club events, visit http://www.emmauskiwanis.org.