Carnival encourages play, inclusion and acceptance; Athletic Edge hosts annual carnival for exceptional children

Published 6:30 am Saturday, March 18, 2023

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

When Laura Horton organized an exceptional children’s carnival six years ago, she wanted to plan an event where all kids could just be kids. The event has grown over the years to host hundreds of children with intellectual-developmental disabilities and volunteers. 

Horton is a former fifth grade educator who taught at John Small Elementary in Washington where her classes often interacted with the Exceptional Children (EC) classes. When she transitioned to Athletic Edge, she knew she wanted to give back to the community – especially to children with disabilities. 

“It’s an honor to host this for them,” Horton said, “and to see the smiles on their faces when they walk through the door. It makes it all worth it.” 

This week, Horton hosted a two-day carnival at Athletic Edge Sports & Fitness in Washington where she is a co-owner and manager. Starting on Wednesday, students from Martin and Beaufort County Schools came to have tons of fun. Students from Pre-Kindergarten to 12th grade were in attendance as well as volunteers from those counties high schools. 

At the carnivals, EC students could dance to popular music, jump in a bouncy castle with a slide, play basketball, do arts and crafts, have their face painted and play games. 

Serena Current, an EC teacher at Washington High School, said her class and student volunteers come to the carnival every year, because EC students get to pick which activity they want to do and when they want to do it. “We love today,” Current said. “They really get independence in here and they really get to have fun and do what brings them joy.” 

Current described the interaction between her students and volunteers as a “win-win.” It teaches volunteers about acceptance, inclusion and “that they are more alike than they are different.” Also, it teaches her students that their disability doesn’t define them. 

Looking at the scene of volunteers and EC students playing, Current said, “Right now, we have a group of guys playing basketball just like any friends would so I think it benefits them to see that even though they might have a disability, that doesn’t mean they’re necessarily that different. They’re still all students and all just want to have fun.” 

Current advises the community that when they plan events, even if the idea of the event is not specific to the intellectual-developmental disability community, to think of ways to make it more accessible for them, because it “benefits everyone in the community when we have events like [the carnival].”

Abigail Lewis, a student volunteer from Washington High School said “it made her feel good” to be at the carnival and it was fun to her. Addie Gibbs, also a volunteer from Washington High School, agreed. She volunteered last year. She said it is “special and fun” for the students. 

On Thursday, Lewis volunteered at the face painting table, but Gibbs volunteered at the bouncy castle. 

Lewis echoed Current’s answer as to why it’s important to host events like the carnival. “Some of the things at our school, they may be able to attend, but it’s not catered toward them. They can go to prom, but I know some of them are bothered by super loud noises. So here, the music is turned down lower and it’s more relaxed. It’s geared toward them.” 

Gibbs said volunteering at events like the carnival helps her get to know EC students and have “personal connections with them.” 

“It does make me want to do more stuff with them outside of school,” Gibbs said.