MAGIC TREE INCLUSION

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COLUMBIA - The magic tree is a bit more magical on Friday.

The Columbia tradition is being tailor-made for children with sensory needs.

"Kids with different sensory needs love Christmas just as much as any other kids," MoDE and CoMO SEPTA Secretary Sara Rivera said. "But it can be overwhelming and really hard for them to participate."

The Missouri Disability Empowerment Foundation (MoDE) is pairing up with Columbia Special Ed PTA (CoMO SEPTA) to bring an inclusive event geared for all ages and abilities.

On Friday night, Cherry Hill's 'Magic Tree' will feature an indoor "sensory room." This room will allow children time to decompress and relax, should the stimulation become too much.

And for parents, this is a big deal. 

"As a parent with a child with additional needs, you’re always thinking 'OK, is this an event where he or she can be successful? Or we can have fun and there’s not gonna be a meltdown? Is it going to be too loud? Is it going to be too chaotic? Too bright?'" Rivera said. "I mean there are so many things you have to think about and it can be exhausting."

Rivera said indoor accessibility often gets over looked, but can be very crucial to children with additional needs, as they can get flustered and need a place to calm down.

"If allowing them to be there for just a few minutes, that's good because then they can go to a calm space where they can relax and calm down," Rivera said. "That’s why we provide that space."
In addition to the sensory rooms, children will also be able to take part in crafts. Rivera said they are creating a jingle bell stick that, by design, has no small parts. This is so children without fine motor skills can also participate.
"So you can shake them and drive your parents crazy," Rivera said. "But that’s OK because if it helps you sing jingle bells then that’s a good thing."

From indoor accessibility to crafts, events like these make up a vital part of Columbia community celebrations.

Rivera said they need to be a norm. 

"We need to see these children that have just a beautiful outlook on life," Rivera said. "And just take a page out of their book and just say 'You know what? It’s OK that we're different. It’s OK that we all have different challenges.' But we also have a lot in common and we have a lot that we can provide and we can give to our communities. We’re not just a disability, we’re an ability."

MoDE President Robyn Schelp said the event is open to the entire community. 

"Often events are not geared for people with disabilities or they are for only people with disabilities," Schelp said. "We wanted to have a fun event for people of all ages and all abilities."

The event will take place at the Village of Cherry Hill starting at 5:30 p.m. and will run until 7:30 p.m.

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