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Community outreach day comes to Challenged Child and Friends
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Samirah Konley, 3, checks out the inside of a Southeastern Freight Lines truck Thursday morning at Challenged Child and Friends in Gainesville. A variety of trucks, police cars and other vehicles were at the event for the children to explore. - photo by Erin O. Smith

Challenged Child and Friends was abuzz with honking horns, blue lights, fire trucks, an all-terrain vehicle and other attractions that brought smiles to the faces of students Thursday morning.

The school for children with disabilities and their typically developing peers, which has kids ranging from 6 months old to 6 years old, can’t take field trips, so a wide variety of community partners showed up at the Murphy Drive school to provide some on-campus fun as part of the school’s community outreach day.

Wyatt, 4, dressed up as a soldier.

“I like police cars and fire trucks,” he said.

He got a chance to see both as a Gainesville Fire Department truck, a Gainesville Police car, a Hall County Sheriff’s Office vehicle and a Georgia State Patrol car were in the parking lot and available for students to hop in.

Some students dressed as firefighters, police officers and doctors.

Another of the other more popular elements for the kids was hearing the horn honk on trucks from Simpson Trucking and Grading and Southeastern Freight Lines.

“Our community is amazing,” said Jamie Reynolds, Challenged Child and Friends executive director. “They come and ask what more they can do.”

Shana Ramsey, the school’s program support coordinator, said the school has now held the community outreach day for five years. She’s grateful for the support of the school’s partners and especially their role in Thursday’s event that was also open to parents and grandparents of students. And, of course, the sights and sounds had the kids enjoying themselves.

“They absolutely love it,” Ramsey said.

Jana Siderakis, a teacher at the school, said it’s good for the kids to see firemen and police in such a setting so they won’t be scared when they see them in the future.

“This is one of the best activities for them because it’s their heroes,” Siderakis said.
And Gainesville Police Cpl. Jessica Van said she and her fellow officers enjoy getting to interact with children in a good context because people are often experiencing something bad when law enforcement responds.

“It’s a more positive and controlled atmosphere,” Van said.

Katie Harrison’s son Hawk suffers from seizures. She said the school, which Hawk attends twice a week, is a place she feels comfortable bringing him.

“He’s blossomed,” Harrison said.

James Anderson was on hand with the Simpson Trucking and Grading truck, displaying some of its features and the especially popular sound of its horn.

“I like seeing the kids’ faces light up when they get in there and blow the horn,” Anderson said.

It was his first time at the school. Reynolds said she appreciates people like Anderson getting their first in-person look at the school and its work. She is hopeful those who saw the school and some of what it offers will encourage others to volunteer at Challenged Child and Friends.

The day certainly made an impression on Anderson.

“I hope I get to come back every year,” Anderson said.

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