After bringing her children to a special Christmas event last year, Sarah Zafirau knew that she needed to help bring something similar to the families of St. Charles Parish.
And she’s doing just that.
Zafirau reached out to Sandra O’Brien, the director of Caring Strategies, and together they are planning a Sensitive Sensory Santa event on Dec. 10 in St. Charles Parish.
Zafirau, who lives in Destrehan, visited a similar event that was held in Chalmette last year. Her son Henry is autistic.
“As soon as I went I knew that I wanted to do it here,” Zafirau said. “It was just so special. I think people really take for granted the simple things that you do with your kids … those things can sometimes be really challenging for some kids. As a family, it was so wonderful to be able to watch him experience a Santa visit with a Santa who was trained to accommodate his unique needs. It’s so special to give them that opportunity.”
She added that it was even more special that her other children were able to attend as well.
“They were so happy to see their brother experience something so positive,” she said.
O’Brien said the event will have no loud noises or long waits in line and that there will be sensory-trained staff and sensory materials available to entertain patrons.
“Our goal is to help children with sensory challenges have a joyful Santa experience by providing an environment that helps the child feel safe and secure,” O’Brien said.
Caring Strategies is a local non-profit organization dedicated to providing resources to children with and without developmental disabilities, and other special needs. The organization serves hundreds of individuals and their families annually and is largely supported by United Way St. Charles.
Zafirau and O’Brien are now working to secure sponsors and volunteers to ensure that the event is a success.
“We just want to reach as many families with kids of special needs as possible,” O’Brien said. “This is so exciting.”
She added that feedback from the community, as well as sponsors, has been overwhelming.
“It’s wonderful to see people join hands together and support our kids and these parents,” O’Brien said. “They need our support and help and resources … it just puts fire under me to see this happen. When you see the outpouring of good, especially in a world where you see so many horrible things, it makes you want to do more and do better and bigger and give as much as you can.”
O’Brien said registration for the Santa event will open on Nov. 1 on Caring Strategies’ website.
“This is the first year Caring Strategies has hosted the event and hope for it to be a popular Santa experience that we can grow and continue for years to come,” Jennifer Burns, Caring Strategies’ assistant director, said.
For more information on donating, volunteering or registering for the Santa event, email Caring Strategies at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.caringstrategies.net. The organization also runs a Facebook page, which helps to keep the community up to date on all events. Halloween and young athlete events are in the works for October and November, and Caring Strategies participates in the German Coast Farmers Market to share information and sell learning kits.