Laughing away the afternoon

Challenged adults have a Christmas celebration to last the year.



CV Weekly intern

For Marcus Williams – a disabled adult – the 36th annual Christmas party for Disabled Adults meant old friends, Christmas gifts and “chocolate chocolate” or chocolate chip cookies. For 81-year-old Vito Cannella – now ready to pass down the family tradition to his daughter Grace Chase – the party means giving back to the community the support he received in raising his autistic daughter.

When Chase asked for volunteers to help prepare for the party that was held on Sunday, Dec. 12 she knew one e-mail would suffice. “During the week before this party, I open my front door and there’ll be boxes of presents that are just delivered to me,” Chase said. Volunteers ranged from members of the Holy Redeemer Church, in whose hall the party was held, to Crescenta Valley High School students recommended by their club advisor to help out. “I think it means a lot to have an integration between a community of people who are abled and disabled together, and I think it means a lot to them to share a party and to be part of a group that is being recognized and to know that they’re important and special,” Chase said.

CVHS sophomore Jessica Steinert passed out name tags, served food and collected the trash. “Our advisor was telling us that lots of these people don’t get any visitors for Christmas, and they don’t get a Christmas celebration, so I think it’s a good party for them and a good chance to be with other people,” said Steinert.

According to Jackie Scott, City of Pasadena Adaptive Recreation Specialist, a percentage of the disabled guests live in group homes and may not have family visitors. “The best part of this celebration is that it provides a family celebration for many people who may or may not have families,” Scott said.

Scott said the program’s members have been asking about the party since September. Besides Pasadena’s Adaptive Recreation Program, disabled adults from Tierra Del Sol and the Glendale Association for the Retarded attended the celebration. Among the afternoon’s events were a performance by Revolution Dance Center students, a solo of “O Holy Night” performed by Ryan, a disabled adult, and, of course, Santa Claus’ personal delivery of a bag of presents to each of the guests.

“I have two favorite parts,” said Chase. “There’s a time when we invite everyone to dance together, and it’s almost to a point where you can’t tell who’s abled and who’s disabled because everyone is smiling and happy. And the other part is when Santa comes and gives a gift to each one of them, and to see the joy in their faces – what Christmas is about – giving and sharing and it’s not about the actual item: it’s about taking your time and doing something for somebody.”

Lou Fritz – acting as Santa Claus – was originally a substitute for another Santa who failed to show up. However, the temporary debut became an annual appearance, one that he said he wouldn’t miss for the world, although he now lives 40 miles away. “It’s great to see the smiles on the adults’ faces. So little means so much to them, and that’s really the true meaning of Christmas,” Fritz said. “The outfit that I wear was one that my mom, who passed away 16 years ago, made and she didn’t quite get it all completed so it’s got pins, and when I put the outfit on, I think of my mom. She was really special – she loved Christmas.”

Fritz added that sometimes society has a tendency to forget about the less fortunate. “This particular segment is really forgotten,” he said. “If you go back 40-50 years ago, they would just be pretty much institutionalized and wouldn’t really be a part of society, but a good amount of these people have jobs, they travel by bus. It’s not like they’re outcasts.”

Maria Escopar – a disabled adult – said that her favorite part of the party is the fun and dancing. But she also acknowledged another reason for her gratitude. “Jackie – she’s a good person. She was trying to get everybody ready for the party,” said Escopar. “She’s good. That’s why we like it.”

For Cannella, Escopar’s words are the best part of the annual celebration. “My favorite part of this thing is when some of them – they come and they hug me and say thank you,” Cannella said. “I know that some of them – this is the only party that they have.”

“I want to say thank you Vito,” said Williams. “And I’m coming next year.”