Tree farm welcomes kids with disabilities

Fairfield Daily Republic ©

DIXON - It was a day when differences didn't matter and people understood one another.

More than 200 children of all ages gathered at the Silveyville Tree Farm on Tuesday to spend time with Santa, receive a gift from the jolly old fellow, enjoy a sleigh ride through the farm and, more importantly, be with others just like them.

They are unique in their own right, separated by varying disabilities and special needs, and yet, they are children who laugh, smile and appreciate special moments such as the one they were experiencing.

"There is a misperception of children with disabilities - people think they're incapable of many things but they're not," said Kerry Pilley, who together with a group of parents, helped organized the "15th Annual Happy Holidays Celebration" at the farm for children with disabilities.

Throughout the two-hour event, children with learning, hearing and seeing disabilities, among others, gasped with excitement at their gifts, waited in line to see Santa and just smiled in awe at the moment.

It was also a time for parents to sit back and watch their children play, knowing other parents understood their experiences.

"Something like this is a break in the storm," said Kathy Allio, the mother of two girls with Batten Disease, a disorder of the nervous system. "It's a chance for parents to get a break and it's the community thinking of our kids. The support goes for miles."
The annual event began 15 years ago when Pilley and a group of parents collaborated to create a special activity for children, a place where parents didn't have to worry what other people thought of their child.

"The idea is simple - parents of kids with disabilities just don't have fun," Pilley said, who also has a child with disabilities. "But this is a place to network, where families can talk, make play dates and if their child throws a tantrum, not worry what other parents are thinking."

Laurel Fichman, who has a son with disabilities and is an employee of Matrix Parent Network, which sponsored the event, agreed with Pilley.

"It definitely helps to be around parents of kids with special needs," she said. "They understand and they're not judgmental."

The "Holiday Celebration," sponsored by Matrix and parent volunteers, collected more than 200 gifts for countywide children, which were donated by various organizations.

Silveyville Tree Farm, a vital part of the event, also donated the space, sleigh rides, popcorn and apple cider to those attending. It's a tradition, co-owner Jeri Seifert said, that she intends to continue.

"There's nothing better than blessing people with the farm," she said of the 20-acre farm, of which 11 acres are dedicated to Christmas trees. "Kids experience a true Christmas feeling when they're here, see the horses and sleigh rides, the trees and the wide open ground.

"You can see them smiling and that alone is worth the time," she added.

The turnout this year exceeded attendance from previous years by 100 children, when the maximum amount was 102.

By the end, families were leaving with smiles, gifts and memories of Santa.