People with special needs get private day at carnival
By Kris Stadalsky For The Herald-News August 8, 2012 9:44PM
The Himalayan ride is a big hit Wednesday among participants at the Three Rivers Festival’s private carnival day in Channahon. | Kris Stadalsky~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 10, 2012 1:53PM
Four-year-old Bryan Clemens of Joliet diligently worked at picking up floating ducks from the duck pond game at Three Rivers Festival in Channahon on Wednesday afternoon.
It was the first time his mom, Danelle, brought him to the carnival. Confined to a wheelchair, Bryan isn’t able to sit up on his own.
But the afternoon at the Three Rivers Fest was set aside just to accommodate people with all sorts of disabilities. The event wasn’t open to the public, so typical obstacles such as large crowds, difficulty getting on and off rides and extremely loud music were not part of the picture.
“He is having a blast,” Danelle said. “He doesn’t get to do too much — this is nice.”
Bryan got to go on three different kids rides with the help of mom and carnival ride operators. As soon as he had his fill, he set his sights on the duck pond game, satisfied with picking up the ducks instead of picking out a prize.
The carnival was filled with about 500 people, the majority with disabilities. They came with 10 to 12 different agencies and some were signed up individually by their families, Channahon Park District executive director and Channahon-Minooka Rotary Club member Chuck Szoke said.
This is the third year for the event, which is sponsored by the Rotary clubs of Channahon-Minooka, Morris and Joliet. The first year about 150 people came, and it has grown every year.
They started the day with a private swim at the Tomahawk Aquatic Center at the park district, then lunch under the big tent, donated by McDonald’s Restaurants of Channahon and Minooka, and finally off to the carnival for their own private day of fun.
“This is just a very positive day,” Szoke said. “I know the Rotary clubs love to do it.”
The carnival company, Fantasy Amusements, donates its staff and energy resources needed to run the rides, team leader and supervisor Rick Stanley said.
The ride operators take extra time with the participants — lending a hand, slowing down rides and toning down the music — so the atmosphere is more comfortable for everyone.
“We do this from our hearts,” Stanley said. “We enjoy doing it.”
Community living director Sue McNabb, from Illinois Valley Industries in Morris, an agency that provides services to adults with developmental disabilities, said her group of 20 participants was having a great time; they’ve come each year since it began.
“I think it’s just the fact they can come and enjoy the rides without all the crowds,” McNabb said.
Richard Thompson and Ryan Kurtyak, Illinois Valley Industry participants, wore the pirate hats they had won at the duck pond earlier in the day. Thompson excitedly talked about riding the Himalayan and how it went forward and backward.
“It was going fast,” he said. “But he (the operator) slowed it down going the other way.”
Kurtyak was ready to head back to the Kite Flyer, his third time that day.
This was the first year that the Chicago Autism Academy in Frankfort had come to the event. Teacher Melissa Hoffman said it brought 50 students and another 40 aides to assist.
“We are having a great time — they loved the water this morning,” Hoffman said. “They loved their McDonald’s (hamburgers) and their ice cream. We will definitely come back next year”.
By mid-afternoon, everyone was looking a little tired from a long day of fun. Some were eager to be on their way, while others were disappointed to leave behind their own private carnival.
One young man practically skipped through the parking lot to an awaiting van. He turned to his companion, jumped in the air and smacked his hands together.
“Man,” he hollered, “this was fun.”