Schwartz Center hosts "Sensory Santa" meet-and-greet

Dec 9, 2017

For some children, a trip to visit Santa Claus at the mall can be a scary and challenging task. From long lines to a noisy environment, children on the autism spectrum or children with special needs may have no choice but to forego the annual holiday tradition.

That’s where the Schwartz Center for Children stepped in, and opened its annual Sensory Santa Christmas event to the community on December 9.

“We have a lot of kids with sensory issues; going to a mall to see Santa can be scary [for them],” said Schwartz Center Chief Administrative Officer Brenda Motta.

Instead, the Schwartz Center’s Santa Claus visit includes one-on-one visits with Santa in a quiet atmosphere. Without distractions, noise, and pressure to keep lines moving, it gives nervous kids a chance to open up and not feel as intimidated as in a crowded mall, Motta explained.

Last year, Motta said the center offered its Sensory Santa program on a weekday during school hours for students at the center, which offers educational and support services for kids with special needs. This year’s event was open to not only a larger contingent of kids who receive outpatient or therapy services outside of school hours, but also the community at large.

The event is not possible without volunteers and donors, including realtor Elaine Gaspar, whose monetary donations help support the annual celebration. Staff from New Bedford-based Seastreak Ferries were also on hand to help out.

“With the Schwartz Center you can see what you’re supporting, and it’s such a great cause,” said John Silvia, Seastreak’s general manager.

Students from Friends Academy helped design decorations before the event, and staffed the arts and crafts room during the program.

Sixth grade teacher Peter Zine explained that students from the academy volunteer at the center once a week as part of the school's service learning program, which allows students to volunteer their time either on the Friends Academy campus or outside in the community.

“We’re helping make sure their holidays are as good as ours,” said student Francesca Selvaggio. “Some of them don’t get the same opportunities to meet other kids.”

“I hope to come here again because I want to make the kids here happy,” added Sophie McCarthy.

Firefighters from Dartmouth Fire District No. 3 also arrived to give kids smiles with a tour of a fire truck and a special visit from Sparky the fire dog. It’s one of several ways the department gives back to the center.

The department is also currently accepting new, unwrapped books, educational, or sensory toys at its 140 Cross Road fire station that will then be donated to Schwartz Center students. Donations are being accepted until December 13.