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For Special-Needs Community, It’s Not the Holidays Until Service League Party

Natalie Close is dressed for the occasion as she visits with Santa and Mrs. Claus during the Highland Lakes Service League’s Special Needs Christmas Party. The service league has been hosting the event for about 20 years, which has led to thousands of smiles. Staff photo by Daniel Clifton

“It feels like Christmas now,” said Annette Ussery, a member of the Highland Lakes Service League. “Every year, it really doesn’t feel like Christmas until this party.”

For about two decades, the Highland Lakes Service League has hosted the Special Needs Christmas Party for youth and adults along with their teachers and caregivers. This year’s party, held Dec. 7 at First United Methodist Church of Marble Falls, possibly set a record in attendance.

The number was at least more than anticipated.

“We were expecting about 280 people, but it’s well over 300, around 340,” said Sherri Staley, a Highland Lakes Service League member and event organizer. “But it’s worth it. Look at all the smiles on these faces.”

Highland Lakes Service League member Maureen Collier paints a Christmas tree on Caitlyn’s face during the league’s annual Special Needs Christmas Party. More than 300 special-needs kids and adults along with teachers, caregivers, and parents attended the event Dec. 7 at First United Methodist Church of Marble Falls. Staff photo by Daniel Clifton

When Staley began organizing the party about five years ago, the number of attendees was around 150 people. Since then, it’s definitely grown. And why not? The party gives the Highland Lakes special-needs community a chance to get out, celebrate, dance, see (and make) friends, and even visit with Santa Claus.

“They look forward to this,” said Ussery, who was also playing the role of Mrs. Claus. “I get to sit with them when each one of them talks to Santa. And, you know what? They believe in Santa. It’s inspiring to hear them talk to Santa. They just love it, and they really enjoy the day.”

The league gets a boost from Highland Lakes businesses in organizing the event. As partygoers came in, league members served them a meal then gave them a number of activities to enjoy.

What’s Christmas without crafts? Those attending the Highland Lakes Service League’s Special Needs Christmas enjoyed making ornaments. Staff photo by Daniel Clifton

Over at one of the face-painting tables, league members Jill Henderson and Gina Smith added a little holiday cheer on the cheeks of kids and adults. They let each partygoer pick their design: a Christmas tree, a snowman, or some other holiday item.

Even if the paintings weren’t worthy of a gallery’s wall, the recipient treasured it, leaving with a smile as they headed to the next stop, which might have been making an ornament.

“This is an amazing way to do something for the community, especially this community that so often is overlooked,” Henderson said. “I have a grandson who has Down syndrome, and these type of events mean a lot to me personally. Look at the smiles.

And then, there was dancing — and lots of it — during the 2018 Highland Lakes Service League’s Special Needs Christmas Party. The event drew more than 300 people, one of the highest turnouts for the party in its more than two decades of celebrating Christmas. One Highland Lakes Service League member remarked that it doesn’t feel like Christmas until this party, and she’s right. Staff photo by Daniel Clifton

“That’s what makes me so happy, to see them happy,” she added.

And happy definitely was the theme of the day. As the partygoers made their way around the different activity stations, and eventually met with Santa Claus, a big number ended up on the dance floor in the church gym, where they danced the afternoon away as Ben Shields from KBEY 103.9 FM Radio Picayune pumped music through the sound system.

“It’s one of the things they look forward to every year,” Staley said. “It’s one of the things the service league looks forward to each year as well. And who wouldn’t? Look at all the fun they’re having and the smiles. I love it.”

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