A Tourist in My Own Hometown, Volume 9: A Visit with Santa

A few years ago I watched as Alex got out his car and took off in a full sprint. His family had just pulled up at Airlie Gardens and mom and dad were trying to run after their speedy son. Alex was in such a hurry because for the first time in his life, he was about to meet Santa.

Okay, I know! I know! I know! You’re reading this thinking “Really?” We’re going to already start talking about Christmas?”

Please forgive me. Yes, it’s early, but I have to tell you about an event that’s very special to me.

Back in 2015, I happened to come across an article from a Candian newspaper about a shopping mall outside of Toronto. The mall had decided to open up early throughout the month of December so children on the Autism Spectrum could come and meet with Santa one-on-one. They called the event “Quiet Visits with Santa.”

Now, I didn’t know about anything of this before reading the article, but it turns out that the mall can be a nightmare for children with sensory issues. There are the crowds, the long lines, the blaring music… all of it could very easily lead to a meltdown.

And so, I picked up the phone and called a friend who I knew was involved in the local Autism community. That was really my only involvement, one phone call! Because my friend picked up the idea and ran with it. She reached out to Airlie Gardens who donated the space and then she got a Neurodevelopmental Pediatrician, Dr. Karen Harum, to sponsor the event. As a team, over the years, we’ve allowed hundreds of area kids to participate in a childhood event that they otherwise may have missed.

In just a few weeks we are going to do it again. The 4th annual Quiet Visits with Santa will be held once again at Airlie Gardens on Saturday, Dec 8th from 9 am to 3 pm and then on Tuesday, Dec 11th from 12 pm to 3 pm. It is free, but it by appointment only. If you know a child who is interested, then give our friends at the Clinic for Special Children a phone call at 910 319-7744.

Now, I want to get back to the start of this post and tell you about my friend Alex. He taught me something that day, three years ago, that I may have overlooked. You see, when we put together the first event, we thought we were doing something for the kids. And to be sure, Alex had a blast. But when we turned around and saw his parents, we realized that we were really doing something special for mom. “You can’t tell you, how much this meant to us,” Alex’s mom Jackie told me as she was leaving.

Click here and watch Alex meet Santa for the first time, and do us a favor and share this post with some friends.

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