HSA brightens day with kids party

Laura Hoesman and Laura Hoesman

TOLEDO — Members of the University’s Honors Student Association helped brighten the lives of children with disabilities yesterday evening when they volunteered at the 15th annual Christmas party at the Toledo Children’s Hospital.

Santa Claus and two clowns entertained children, who also had the opportunity to make crafts and eat snacks, while socializing with their friends.

Eight HSA members were joined by University of Toledo volunteers from Alpha Phi Omega, a coed service fraternity.

Students decorated the lobby and waiting room area of the hospital before the party. During the festivities, they helped children with crafts and took pictures of the young patients with Santa Claus.

For those volunteering yesterday, the reason for the occasion was simple.

“I thought it would be a nice thing to do for the kids,” said University freshman Sarah Turley. “I helped take pictures of little kids when they sat on Santa’s lap. They were just so cute and really excited to see Santa.”

The party was planned by physical, occupational and speech therapists at the hospital for patients and their families.

Lisa Durst, a pediatric physical therapist and 2002 alumna of Bowling Green, recruited students from BGSU and UT to make the party run more smoothly than it has in past years.

“This is the first year we’ve had volunteers,” Durst said. She added that because she was the community service chair of HSA during her time at the University, she knew the organization was willing to participate in service projects.

The patients at the party– who ranged from infancy to seven years old — had health problems including developmental delay due to premature birth, cerebral palsy, down syndrome, brain injuries and muscular diseases.

One child, six-year-old Garrett Zeman, has attended the Christmas party every year of his life, except for 2002, when surgery got in the way.

According to his mother, Marcia Zeman, Garrett has been in therapy at the Toledo Children’s Hospital since he was 10 months old. The boy was born with cerebral palsy and a brain condition which required surgery when he was four. Today, Garrett is functioning with only one half of his brain, and has only peripheral vision.

Yet Garrett was able to enjoy making crafts, meeting Santa and having balloon animals made for him by the two clowns that attended yesterday’s party.

“My son is able to interact with children with the same needs as his own,” Zeman said. “Every year we see different people. He enjoys coming and interacting with other kids. Garrett has made a lot of new friends.”

Zeman added that at past Christmas parties she has met the parents of Garrett’s friends and compared notes with them about the health issues their children face.

“It’s amazing to see how [the children] progress,” Zeman said. “Therapists are wonderful for these kids.”

For occupational therapist Tina Roman and other health care professionals at the hospital, the Christmas party is “an opportunity for us to see our patients outside of the sessions we have [with] them.”

Roman said that while some children are hesitant to associate with their therapists outside of regular hospital visits, most children are so caught up in the fun of the party that they are very welcoming to the professionals.

“A few associate us with work and therapy, but the majority do not,” she said.

Roman said that while the hospital-funded party is usually successful and well-attended, it would be helpful if area businesses and organizations could help to fund the event.

“I don’t think the community knows we do this with our own budget,” Roman said. “I would like the community to know that we do this for the public, and get some support from them.”

University senior Marissa Mizer was impressed by the positive atmosphere of the party.

“There was a really accepting, friendly environment,” she said.

Deborah Ehrick, a junior, agreed.

Citing the fact that most of the children at the party were disabled, Ehrick said, “I got the idea that the kids really didn’t feel different.”