TRAVERSE CITY — Alexander Cummings, 21, looks forward to Fun and Games for Special Kids for weeks.
Cummings, who has cerebral palsy, has attended the National Cherry Festival event since age 12. He grinned Wednesday as his caretaker, Kathy Roberts, helped him pet a goat.
”He likes the social atmosphere. He loves to watch people,” Roberts said. “Not a lot of places have handicapped events like this.”
Hundreds of special needs kids and their families came to the Open Space Wednesday for activities including a petting zoo, rubber duck pond, balloon twisting, a lift in a Traverse City fire truck, carnival games and rides. It was a chance for Alexander to get fresh air and for Roberts to meet up with old friends. She knows of families from out-of-state who plan vacations around Special Kids Day.
A morning spent playing games was a perk to Ethan Olson’s visit from Chicago. Ethan, 12, tossed a ball and knocked over a stack of buckets. His older cousin, Austin Olson, rewarded him with a hefty scoop of sprinkle-covered ice cream.
Ethan attends every year with his grandmother, Laurie Olson. She bragged that this was his first time at the event in a walker. Cerebral palsy restricted him to a wheelchair in the past.
Ethan, like many kids Wednesday morning, itched to hop on the rides at the Arnold Amusements Midway. He said his favorite part of Cherry Festival is “bumping people” in the bumper cars.
“It’s so great coming and seeing all the smiles on these kids’ faces,” Laurie Olson said.
James Dittmar held his daughter, Ella, 1, while she petted a horse. His four kids are special needs, ranging from anxiety to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and autism. Classmates tease one son, but he’s included by everyone at Special Kids Day.
”It’s kids he can interact with,” Dittmar said. “Having fun is the big thing for them.”