chase with santaIt was approximately 5 years ago when I saw the ad for the Sensitive Santa event at Jericho. My son, Chase had been diagnosed with autism about a year before, and for me, I guess, this new world of unknown and lots of emotional rollercoasters was still very raw.

I was so excited to bring Chase to this event. I mean who wouldn’t want to make reindeer feed, ornaments, and write letters to Santa, not to mention eating cookies and drinking juice. One of the activities used a magic wand and Chase didn’t want to give that up for anything. When it came time to do so, he had a complete meltdown! He didn’t want to hand it over, he didn’t want to see Santa. He didn’t want to do anything but scream and cry. And this is when the magic of Jericho began…

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I immediately became embarrassed and upset. The perfect morning I had set up for us was now ruined. I wanted my son’s picture with Santa like everyone else. I wanted Chase to enjoy this moment just as much as I was enjoying him participate in the activities. We were strangers and yet felt very welcome from the moment we walked into the room. I took the wand, put it back on the table, and ran him out the door. I was so upset. We went over to the playground and by now I was in full-blown tears. The kind that you can’t stop even though you desperately want to. After a few minutes, I heard a voice say, “Hi Mom, what’s your son’s name?  Hi Chase. I think I found you another magic wand.” I looked at this woman with the biggest most genuine smile on her face. I started crying again and she just gave me the biggest hug and reassured me everything was going to be ok. She stayed with us and then we went back in to see Santa and we got our picture. This woman is the amazing Linda LaPointe and this nonjudgmental place was Jericho.

I quickly learned that the families and friends of Jericho are just that family and friends. I have made wonderful connections through Jericho and received amazing support, including educational advocacy over the past 5+ years.  Jericho and its staff, family, and friends work tirelessly to improve the lives of individuals with different abilities. I can’t say enough about Jericho and the importance of having access to this incredible resource in our community. Visit it, learn from it, and most of all support it!

-- Margaret Downing

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