LACEY – For more than 20 years, a pre-Thanksgiving brunch tradition has been served up, provided by students and staff of the district’s special education program at Lacey High School. This year was no exception and beyond the wide variety of food was the message of a big thank you to the community.
Special education teacher Renee Risden welcomed staff, parents and special guests which included 20 members of the Woman’s Club of Lacey to the event.
As per tradition, attendees were greeted at the door by both students and high school interns who are studying to go into the special education profession, at the Thanksgiving tree where one could write down what they were thankful for on a piece of paper attached to a string and hang it on a branch.
Woman’s Club of Lacey President Nancy Bylsma Fortin said she and her fellow members always enjoyed the event. Member Mariana Marzacco heads the clubs Community Improvement Program which raises money during the year for special community causes.
Fortin and Marzacco presented a $1,450 check to Risden for the class. The club, which is affiliated with the international Women’s Club has been presenting a check for many years to the class for trips and special projects.
“This brunch is a way for us to say thank you to the members of the Woman’s Club of Lacey and many others who have supported this program over the years,” Risden said.
Fortin said she’d been a member of the local club for 16 years and that the event has a special place in the hearts of their membership. “We raise the money from 50/50 at our club meetings, car parties and now during our bus trips.”
“They’ve used the money from donations toward trips to Disney, a refrigerator and helped a student who had just had an implant procedure done,” Fortin said.
Bunni McGauley, a retired district special education paraprofessional and a member of the Woman’s Club of Lacey, noted how the event started with a project that she was involved with to help a young disabled student whose parents were in need.
“I had come to the Woman’s Club asking if they might be able to help the family with one item on a list we had prepared to help them during the holidays. They asked me to come to their meeting and I was shocked. They had wrapped up presents that included all the items on the list and more. After that they had given the class a check each year. From that one project it had snowballed to something so special,” McGauley said.
School Board member Regina Discenza, who was present for the brunch, said “this is a very nice annual event. This is about family and community.”
Superintendent Craig Wigley, who became superintendent in July 2016, said he was involved with special education prior to his becoming superintendent.
“This program and event is incredible. It is very unique. Districts become involved with the Special Olympics, but this event is special and very inclusive,” he said.
“The students and staff cooked and served the food, made decorations and provided a really tasty menu. This year we even upped the bacon from nine pounds to 12,” Risden said.
Risden thanked the paraprofessionals and interns involved with the special education program who helped out for the morning brunch. “They chose to learn and grow with us.” She also thanked the local ShopRite store and the Berkeley Housing Collaboration for their support of the program.
Student Amanda Pilot represented her classmates in the program saying “we appreciate your being here and giving us the support we need. We would not have been able to enjoy all the experiences we have had over the years without you.”