Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Visually impaired children visit Santa

Jervon Brown took a different approach this year when he met Santa Claus.

Instead of sitting on the jolly one's lap Saturday at the Cleveland Sight Center, the 12-year-old boy, who is blind, extended his arm and tried to give St. Nick a handshake.

But it didn't work.

"He didn't let me get away with it, but at least I got to tell him what I wanted," said Jervon, who eventually sat on Santa's lap and asked for an iPod. "I think he heard me."

The seventh-grader was one of nearly 200 blind and visually impaired children, and their siblings, who got a chance to talk and have their pictures taken with Santa as part of the group's annual Christmas party.

The party has been a tradition for more than 40 years and is a way for families who have children who are blind or visually impaired to connect with each other, said Judith Carey, chief development officer at the Cleveland Sight Center.

"I think for a lot of our families, they don't bring their kids to see Santa, and nobody has a special party for them," Carey said. "This party is so that Christmas is the same for them as it is for everybody else."

A long line of children and camera-toting parents extended down a hallway of the group's building during the party.

Volunteers passed out specialized toys and teddy bears after the children talked with Santa, played by Gordon Safran.

Children in line talked about what they wanted, but as some stepped closer to Santa, they either froze up, cried or sat speechless on his lap.

Not Miriam Derai.

The 6-year-old Mentor girl, who has had several eye surgeries, walked right up to Santa , touched his white beard a little bit and got right into what she wanted to see under the tree.

"Dear Santa, may I please have an American Girl doll, a dress and a plate of strawberries," she said.

After Miriam and Santa talked, Miriam's mother, Cheryl Derai, smiled at her and said her daughter probably could have kept on going. "She practiced what she wanted to say to Santa," Derai said, "so she was ready."


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