(Photo by Leonna Heuring, Staff)
Ashley, a 20-year-old student at New Dawn Missouri School for Severely Disabled in Sikeston, was one of more than 300 residents taking part Wednesday in the "community day" at the carnival. For at least 20 years, the Legion has opened the midway one day during carnival week for elderly and disabled residents from the community.
"We just thought it would be a good thing for the community to have some of the nursing homes out. It's grown since then," said Gene Stroud, finance officer and special events chairman for the American Legion.
The Legion usually feeds 360 people during the community day, Stroud said.
"Tinsley Amusements start up some of the rides and some of the old folks get the chance to ride and it brings back some memories," Stroud said.
Among those who attended Wednesday's event were clients of Sikeston Regional Center, employees of Community Sheltered Workshop in Sikeston and students of New Dawn and many others.
"It's like a dream come true for these kids. It's probably the only event offered in Sikeston for them," said Melissa Stewart, who runs a group home. Three of her children, including Ashley, attend New Dawn and were having fun at the carnival Wednesday.
Janet Hough, adult II classroom teacher for New Dawn, said the school brought two of its older adult classes, which totaled 10 students.
"It's a blast, and the kids love it. They eat first. Then they open up the rides. The carnival workers have always been wonderful. They're as patient as can be," Hough said.
Hough said the day is also special for parents and other caregivers because often times they wouldn't be able to bring their children to the carnival during a regular night.
Getting a child on and off a ride, especially those who are wheelchair bound takes time and patience by everyone involved, Hough said. When children attend with their school, two or three people are available to help.
"Our population is usually one not readily thought of (for community events)," said Anita Burnett, interim superintendent of the Sikeston Regional Center.
The Sikeston Regional Center, which is part of the Missouri Department of Mental Health, Division of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, has brought clients to the Cotton Carnival during the designated day for at least 15 years,
"We normally take about 10 clients. They love the fish sandwiches and like to walk around and see everyone else," Burnett said. "Some of them absolutely love the rides.
Both Burnett and Hough said the bumper cars is a favorite among those carnival goers on community day.
"It means everything to them. It's a chance to see them in a whole different environment and we've been going for 20 years," Hough said. "The Legion is so generous to open it up for us." "
It's a fun time for the carnival workers, too.
Lee Holtz, Ferris wheel operator for Tinsley Amusements Inc., said he looks forward to the community day at the Cotton Carnival every year. Of all the carnivals Tinsley Amusements provides services for, Sikeston, Dexter and Champagne, Ill., are the only cities that designate days for the elderly and disabled to enjoy the carnival, Holtz said.
"I feel special to be a part of making them happy. These people don't get to do much," the longtime Tinsley employee said. "It's gratifying."