TRAVERSE CITY — John Cummings needed an early start to get his family to the Fun and Games for Special Kids event at the Festival Open Space.
Cummings was up before 6 a.m. and drove from Lake Ann with his wife Kathy and daughter Mindy Carter to bring his 10 children — all adopted and with special needs — to the event. They traveled with two nurses and three health aids in three separate vehicles.
“The carnival people are really good at helping them on the rides,” Carter said. “The kids get that special attention and feel good for it. It takes special people to do this kind of work.”
She said her brothers and sisters are often aware of the event months before Cherry Festival kickoff and it's something they greatly anticipate.
Hundreds of families came to Wednesday’s event, a fun-filled morning for hearing, visually, physically impaired, and developmentally disabled children. Guests made pies, participated in obstacle courses, had their faces painted and rode the rides at the Midway. There was even a station for wheelchair repairs.
“There’s nothing better than seeing their smiles and the joy on their faces, and the love they give you,” Cummings said about attending the event with his family.
Over the years John and Kathy Cummings adopted 13 children with special needs. Their disabilities range from behavioral disorders like ADHD to more severe physical disabilities like Cerebral Palsy, Down syndrome and severe Autism. Mindy is John's only biological daughter and she moved to the area from Tennessee to help her parents care for her brothers and sisters.
Marlene Plane is a vocational assistant at the Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District. She works with special needs students to help them gain experience in the work force. She saw many of her students at the event, but also came with her two grandchildren, Olyvia and Norah.
“It’s difficult for our students to get through barriers,” she said. “This event opens up the barriers so they don’t have to wait in long lines or stand still longer. It’s difficult for them to get around in crowds for many of them.”
She said many TBAISD employees brought students with disabilities to the special event when their parents had conflicts and couldn't take them on their own.