SC community hopes to spread more holiday cheer with sensory-friendly Santa

South Carolina News

INMAN, S.C. (WSPA) – For the first time, Spartanburg County will host a sensory-friendly Santa experience this holiday season designed for children with special needs.

From bright lights to Christmas jingles, the holidays are a time of gathering and celebration. Many families enjoy the commotion, but those with special needs can feel overburdened.

“It can be extremely overwhelming for these parents and the families. There’s a lot of people, there’s a lot of loud noise, busy crowds, a lot of music and lights,” said Kristen Guilfoos, marketing manager of Spartanburg County Parks. “That is, a lot of times, not what is best for this special needs population.”

Which is why Spartanburg County Parks is adding a new way to spread holiday cheer this season through its new sensory-friendly Santa experience.

“We will have just one family at a time. They have that fifteen minute time block. So, it will be quiet, we won’t have loud music, there won’t be flashing lights, they’ll just have that one-on-one experience with Santa,” said Guilfoos.

The event will engage children of all ages and abilities.

Spartanburg County residents said there has been a need for an event like this in the community for a while.

“It’s something that the therapy world has known that is such an important part of Christmas. Children love Christmas, children love to see Santa. So, to see community leaders and community organizations recognizing that is huge,” said Sarah Emory, owner and founder of MTS Kids.

“It is so important that we not only get to incorporate our typically-developing children, but also our children that might not being developing the same as others.” 

Emory, the owner and founder of a local speech therapy site for children, is also a mother of three.

“Being a mother is one of the biggest gifts of my entire life,” said Emory.

She told 7NEWS that she is grateful to experience Christmas with her family and is thrilled to now see additional ways other families can enjoy the festivities with their children.

“Getting to see other moms get to serve their children in the same way I get to serve mine, that’s what makes my heart so full,” said Emory.

The sensory-friendly Santa experience will be held at Lake Cooley Outdoor Education Center in Inman on Saturday, December 11th and Saturday, December 18th from 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. Service pets are welcome.

It costs $20 to reserve a time slot. Children will receive time with Santa, a cookie, hot chocolate, and the opportunity to do a holiday craft. There will be someone on site taking photos, however parents are encouraged to take their own as well.

Leaders from Spartanburg County Parks said there are limited spots and are based on a first-come first-serve basis.

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