Something many families take for granted, a simple day at the beach, can be something extraordinary for those who have children with special needs.
That’s why the Catalina Ski Race Children’s Foundation each year hosts Kid’s Day at Marine Stadium — giving youngsters the opportunity to make sand castles, swim, kayak, ride on motor boats or jet skis and interact with clowns and superheroes while enjoying burgers from In-N-Out.
“This isn’t something we could normally do,” parent Renee Renfro said while her daughter, 6-year-old Rachel, lounged under an umbrella on the beach.
Rachel, wearing tiny sunglasses and a “Little Mermaid” swimsuit, has cerebral palsy. Riding in a red wagon helps the girl get through the sand, and Renfro said it’s nice to spend the day at the beach with other families who understand and relate to one another.
Another parent, Irene Mendoza, said her 2-year-old daughter, who has cerebral palsy, enjoyed putting her feet in the water and riding with her father on a motor boat. While relaxing on the sand, Mendoza said she was relieved to be at the beach without having people stare.
Mom Kamra DeHart, whose 3-year-old daughter has spina bifida, said bringing her six children to the beach for Kid’s Day is something the family always looks forward to.
The event, which took place last Friday, is always shortly before the Catalina Ski Race itself, which launches this Saturday.
Catalina Ski Race Children’s Foundation Chairman Jody Campbell, a former water polo player and Olympic athlete, said Friday’s event was the 21st annual and was started as a way to give back to the community that has long supported the Ski Race. The Ski Race is in its 67th year.
“The first Kid’s Day, we had about 30 kids and three tents, and now we have about 600 kids and 150 volunteers,” Campbell said. “We hear stories every year from people who say they’re doing things here that they’d never otherwise do, and there’s no judgment here so parents and kids can be themselves.”
The day is designed for families with special needs children or for families with children suffering from chronic or terminal conditions. Attendees can expect appearances from the Long Beach Fire Department’s Rescue Boat, the U.S. Coast Guard’s Coastie character, an amphibious vehicle, half a dozen motor boats and much more.
Campbell noted that the day depends on its volunteers and donations, both monetary and in-kind, to make it all possible. And, the organization relies on referrals from local healthcare providers who invite the attendees.
Among the volunteers at Kid’s Day is Aurielle Carr, 21, who started attending the event as a participant several years ago and now helps put attendees at ease.
“I just hold their hands and make sure they aren’t afraid,” Carr said as she shook off her wet hair and tried to brush sand off of her polka dot swimsuit. “I love the boats and having a day at the beach.”
For more details, visit www.csrchildrensfoundation.org.
Ashleigh Ruhl can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.