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Brief: Santa Gives Gift of Respite

Special needs, children of veterans and wounded warriors share Christmas cheer.

The Easter Seals Respite Program makes Saturdays a little brighter for families like the Heywards. Imani, 4, and Jeremy, 6, pose with Santa and Mrs. Claus.

The Easter Seals Respite Program makes Saturdays a little brighter for families like the Heywards. Imani, 4, and Jeremy, 6, pose with Santa and Mrs. Claus. Photo Contributed

Santa delivered gifts to each of the 23 children in attendance at the annual holiday party for children with disabilities and their families as well as families of veterans, active military and wounded warriors on Saturday, Dec. 8 at the Centreville Moose Lodge in Fairfax. The party, held by unit 85 of the American Legion, Centreville Moose Lodge 2168 and Easter Seals, brings children and their families who are participants in the Easter Seals Respite Services Program together for lunch, arts and crafts, gifts donated by the American Legion and a visit from Santa Claus, who arrived on a fire engine.

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The Hernandez family enjoyed holiday the party—Gloria, 8, and Moises, 10, got gifts from Santa and the American Legion in Fairfax. Their mom Rosa loves bringing her children to Easter Seals Respite events.

The goal of the event is to provide families with a day without stress, worry or concerns. Families in the community came together and made new friends and enjoyed the special moments with their children. For some this will be their only Christmas.

Easter Seals’ Respite Services provides a critically important service for families whose children have severe disabilities. For military families in particular, juggling the special care of their children with the demands of service to the nation places these families at the risk of burnout and other domestic challenges. This intervention provides families with “time off” from parenting and specialized support for their children, creating a healthy and stable home. The program has recently expanded to include “Little Warriors,” children of wounded soldiers.

“We appreciate this program and what it does for families,” said Cassidy Norman, a Naval aviator based at the Pentagon and father of Marisa, 9, and Chase, 3. “Not only does it provide incredible respite care, but also helps us make connections to other families that understand what we are going through. As a military family we have to move a lot. This is a nice way to meet other folks in our position.”

Sherry Lemnah, Children and Youth chairperson for American Legion Unit 85 in Arlington organizes the event annually. She helps coordinate the logistics with the Moose Lodge, prepare the decorations and shop for toys. “We do this because we are all a military family. We take care of the veterans, military and their children. That’s what the American Legion does. The children and the military are our heart. These children are so grateful for everything, just looking at their faces makes it all worth it!”