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Special celebration for a special season

MortArboretum Lisle hosts Supper with Sant5:30-7:30 p.m. Thursday Dec. 20.

Morton Arboretum in Lisle hosts Supper with Santa, 5:30-7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 20.

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Updated: January 5, 2013 6:11AM

AURORA — There are some days when busy mom Marie Adams just wants to stay home — where her autistic twin daughters, 9-year-olds Haley and Brooke, are most comfortable.

“Sometimes, it’s just easier,” the Plainfield resident said. “Going out into the general public can be hard.”

The long lines, the crowds, and the stress can get overwhelming, she said. But last weekend, that wasn’t the case.

More than 150 special needs children and their siblings came together to celebrate the season at Aurora University where about two dozen AU students worked with Celebrate Differences, an Oswego community resource center, to throw a holiday party to remember.

There was pizza and presents, cookies and cocoa — and Santa.

“This is a great step to help acclimate (the girls),” Adams said as she waited in line to see Mr. Claus. “The surroundings are comfortable and accommodating, and the siblings have just as much fun.”

Across the room, 13-year-old Dalton Miller of Oswego sat at a decorated table with his family. Dalton, who has Down syndrome and ADHD, was all smiles as he surveyed the scene.

“For him, this is really important,” Dalton’s mother said. “We are with a group of people that can all relate. It’s nice to be able to help out parents with younger children.”

Dalton’s sisters, Danielle, 10, and Deidra, 7, were also along for the fun. Events like the Christmas party are just as important for siblings as the special needs children themselves.

“They do struggle sometimes,” their mother said. “But they come away learning something. They come away realizing they’re not alone.”

Aurora University sophomore Genta Hoti was one of dozens of student volunteers who helped out during the annual event as part of the university’s Wellness and Responsibility class. She said the community service project was wonderful to work on. Students took on fundraising opportunities to raise cash for gifts, food and games, and volunteered their time helping out at the event. The students spent more than two months planning the party.

“The students did a great job,” teacher Don Phelps said of his team. “I’m really proud of them.”

Phelps said that such projects stick with students long after they leave the classroom setting.

“For me, the way I learned best was through experience,” he said.

Students majoring in business, finance, English and social work all came together to utilize their skills in the real world.

“When this is done, we will go back and talk about what we did right, what we can learn from, and how we can apply everything,” Phelps said. “There were lessons learned, for sure.”

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