Group brings holiday cheer to students with special needs

Santa holds a student with special needs during the annual Christmas party at the Ottawa Area Center on Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2017.

ZEELAND, Mich. (WOOD) — Santa paid an early visit to Ottawa County to spread holiday cheer to students with special needs.

Beneath the jingle bells and holiday music, laughter filled the gym at the Ottawa Area Center Wednesday morning during the school’s annual Christmas party, organized by the Holland Junior Welfare League.

The group brought crafts, games, gifts and Santa to about 210 students, ensuring they could join in on some holiday festivities.

“My class thoroughly looks forward to opening their gift card that they get every year from the Junior Welfare League,” said Missy Meekhof, who teaches students with autism and moderate cognitive impairments at the OAC.

Meekhof says the yearly event is a true gift for most of her students.

“The mall can be very overstimulating, especially for students with autism. To wait in line for that long to see Santa, and just the sights and sounds can be overwhelming. This is just a safe environment,” said Meekhof.

The OAC gym, a very familiar sight to students there, was transformed into a winter wonderland for the celebration.

The Holland Junior Welfare League is a nonprofit group of women committed to helping children in the Holland, Zeeland, and Hamilton area.

Brianna Lynn joined the service group two years ago. She knows how busy the holidays can be, but appreciates the warmth felt after helping people in your community.

“It doesn’t have to involve money. It doesn’t have to involve your time. You can be creative about it and in the end, you’re giving the holiday spirit to someone that really needs it,” she said.