(Posted April 22, 2019)
By Dedra Cordle, Staff Writer
At an Easter egg hunt a couple of years ago, Mackenzie Groves saw brightly colored plastic eggs scattered across the floor and tucked away in the folds of hard-to-reach places and knew it was not the right environment for her son.
Born with hydrocephalus and later diagnosed with cerebral palsy and epilepsy, Carson, 6, uses a wheelchair and is limited in his ability to bend and reach. Knowing how much her son had looked forward to his first public egg hunt, Groves was heartbroken and disappointed he couldn’t participate as fully as he desired.
The following year, the Columbus resident decided to host her own hunt so Carson would get that full Easter experience but concluded that something was missing.
“We like to get out and meet new people,” she said.
Several weeks ago, Groves heard from a friend about an Easter egg hunt set to take place at the West Jefferson Community Center. Since she and her family live nearby, Groves was intrigued but worried it would be a repeat of the hunt from two years ago. But then she learned it was designed for children and adults with special needs. She lit up at the news.
“I thought it was just so awesome,” she said.
On the morning of April 20, the family drove to the community center. When they walked through the doors to the portion of the hunt for individuals with mobility issues, they couldn’t suppress their laughter and smiles.
Scattered across the floor of the large meeting room were brightly colored plastic eggs with balloons attached on long strings. Tucked into other easy-to-reach places were more hidden treasures, including eggs that beeped for participants with vision impairment.
At first, Groves slowly pushed Carson to the balloons and helped him pull up the eggs but he quickly decided he wanted to try to get them himself.
“He’s being very independent,” she said with a big grin. “He doesn’t seem to want my help at all.”
Altogether, Carson collected 20 eggs, the maximum number allowed so that participants with vision and sensory issues could get their fair share of the sweet loot, too. Approximately 80 children and adults took part in the egg hunt.
“We had such a wonderful time,” Groves said. “I’m so happy that this event happened and that they put so much thought into preparing this hunt for those with different abilities.”
The Easter egg hunt, the first of its kind for the area, was made possible through a partnership between the village of West Jefferson and the Autism Society of Central Ohio. Marci Darlington, West Jefferson parks and recreation director, said a comment she read online sparked the idea.
“They asked if we had ever considered hosting an Easter egg hunt for people with special needs,” she explained. “And at that time I had honestly never heard of such a thing.”
Darlington reached out to the Autism Society of Central Ohio and promptly learned they, too, were looking to establish a public egg hunt for people with special needs.
“It’s like the stars aligned,” said Ginny Bryan, the society’s resource specialist.
When the two first began discussing the event, Easter of 2018 was rapidly approaching and they knew didn’t have enough time to get everything ready, so they set their sights on Easter of 2019.
“We wanted this to be a great occasion for all families with special needs, not just those with autism,” Bryan said. “We didn’t want to exclude anyone from participating in this event.”
They didn’t, however, account for inclement weather.
“It threw a wrench in our outdoor plan, so all of our volunteers spent the day Friday decorating the center and breaking down the times for our events,” Bryan said. “It wasn’t exactly what we initially wanted but it became what we wanted.”
For the families who participated, the event marked a special day in their lives. West Jefferson resident Seth Fry got to see his 4-year-old daughter, Ruby, who was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, collect eggs with other children and come face to face with the Easter bunny for the first time.
“We always wanted to take her somewhere and get her photo taken with the Easter bunny, but it would be a very difficult thing to do,” he said. Ruby becomes overwhelmed by crowds, noise and excessive stimuli. “This event offered us that opportunity and we got it. Well, she didn’t get her picture taken but she did look at the bunny for a while and that was good enough for us.”
Patty Davis, a resident of the west side of Columbus, said it was great to see her 32-year-old son, Chris, reach out and collect the eggs perfectly situated for those who use wheelchairs.
“He’s not able to do a lot but he was grabbing those eggs,” she said with a laugh. “We had a great time and he had a great time.”
Families in attendance said they hoped the community center would host the egg hunt next year, and both Darlington and Bryan said it is very likely they will.
“We want this to become an annual event,” Darlington said.
“We’re already talking about tweaks to make it better for next year,” Bryan said. “We have so many ideas and to have that reassurance that this is something the community really wants makes us want to make it even greater for them.”