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Leominster, MA: SPED Parent Advisory Council hosts breakfast with Santa

Dec 25, 2022, Fitchburg (MA) Sentinel and Enterprise: Leominster SEPAC hosts sensory friendly Breakfast with Santa

“He has sensory processing disorder so it can get overwhelming with the crowds at the mall to see Santa,” she said of Cole, her 5-year-old, at the Leominster Special Education Parent Advisory Council Breakfast with Santa held at City Hall last weekend.

O’Keefe brought her two sons to the event organized and run by SEPAC board members including President Angela Thomas, Technology Director Shannon LeClair, and Secretary Amy Katon that had a jovial yet calm vibe…..

LeClair said they were busy early on and steady throughout the morning, with dozens of families stopping by the auditorium for a meet and greet and photos with Santa, crafts and creative play with Project Apples/Leominster CFCE, and sensory fun including water tables. A table was set up with baked goods, juice boxes, water bottles, fruit salad, coffee and more for the attendees.

“We have tried to take into consideration everyone’s needs,” LeClair said at the occasion. “Lower lighting, we tried to be aware of how many families were here at time, kept it quieter, and everything in to go containers in case anyone needs to leave quickly.”

Leominster Public Library Children’s Library Associate Renee Wheeler set up a cozy reading nook with bean bags and other soft, comfy seating where she read stories and kids could read independently, a spot where children could “calm down and enjoy a story and sit,”

LeClair said…. Project Apples Program Coordinator Lisa Novelli said they were happy to partner with Leominster SEPAC “in their mission to support special needs families.”

“The Breakfast with Santa event was meaningful and allowed us to contribute sensory-based activities to children and families who have extra demands on their lives,” Novelli said. …

SEPAC is a group of volunteer parents of special education students in Leominster who help support families through workshops, resources, and events. LeClair said Breakfast with Santa “was strictly for families of folks with disabilities or with specific circumstances that makes it impossible to access typical winter events.”…

“Angela and I worked tirelessly to put this together for the special education kids in Leominster,” LeClair shared. “We are also fortunate to have the support of our other board members as well as volunteers, the Leominster Public Library, etc.”

In addition, several members of Leominster Fire Department including Leominster Fire Fighters Local 1841 IAFF President Ryan Young volunteered to help set up and break down the event including moving all the tables….

Her autistic son Cameron came by before everyone else got there and then went to his grandmother’s so his mom could help facilitate the inaugural event that she hopes will become an annual tradition….

LeClair is also involved in Best Buddies, the world’s largest organization dedicated to ending the social, physical, and economic isolation of the 200 million people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. She organized a Best Buddies Friendship Walk back in June at Doyle Conservation that raised $2,371 for the nonprofit organization, which she also hopes will become an annual tradition, and started a blog and Facebook group, The Advocacy Partnership, Team TAP for short, with the mission to support “local parents of kiddos with neurodiversities.”

Fitchburg and Leominster high schools each have Best Buddies chapter classrooms that host special education program students and have Peer Buddies students who assist them. LeClair said that as a mom of a child with autism, being involved with Best Buddies and helping to organize SEPAC events such as Breakfast with Santa gives her an outlet to help other families in the same boat as her….

Shannon LeClair holds hands with 9-year-old Zephyr Roy, who sat for a picture with Santa during the Leominster Special Education Parent Advisory Council sensory friendly Breakfast with Santa held at City Hall last weekend that she and many others helped to organize. “Seeing the smiles on the children’s faces when they got to spend time with Santa and hearing laughter echo in the auditorium as families immersed themselves in the assorted activities was really the best Christmas present we could ask for.” (DANIELLE RAY/SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE)


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