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A very special day

LANETT — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers kicked off its 39th annual Special Day for Special People Thursday morning with music, games and food.

The event took place at Rocky Point Recreation Area and spanned across the picnic area and boat docks, providing a wide variety of activities for disabled people from the local area.

“One of my favorite things about this event is some of these participants don’t ever get the opportunity to go outside, and I’m all giddy about the whole thing because of all the smiles that people have,” said Park Ranger Rebecca Fink, who has managed the event for the last three years. “It’s one of my favorite activities. I really enjoy seeing everyone enjoy the day.”

Buses from local schools and nursing homes, as well as other groups and individuals, came out to enjoy the event and take part in the picnic lunch provided by Special Day’s corporate sponsor, Publix. CocaCola provided drinks.

“This is something we’ve done… 21 years,” said Randy Burt of Publix. “It’s part of our culture at Publix to give back to our community. It’s in our mission statement — the hearts of our people.”

The event has grown to include everything from live music to pontoon boat rides, but it all started out with a simple picnic sponsored by some rangers.

According to Chief Park Ranger David Barr, when West Point Lake opened for public access in 1975, its staff members wanted to do something for people who are disabled.

“At that time, this lake had a lot of handicapped facilities that met the requirements for handicapped accessibility back in the day, so they decided to pull together and just have a little picnic lunch and some fun activities,” Barr said. “They relied a lot on donations from the community, local businesses, entertainment, and every year, it’s been a little bit different.”

The event has grown significantly since then. This year, it featured Officer George Cotton as a DJ, singer Donica Knight, and the Springwood cheerleaders as entertainment. Organizers emphasized the importance of the event to the community, especially in light of how few events focus on disabled people.

“They don’t get to do anything like this anywhere else in the community. It’s important to them because this is a time to socialize in ways where they feel comfortable,” Fink said.

Besides numerous volunteers from the Army Corp of Engineers, local organizations such as Southern Harbor, Highland Marina and Wild Animal Safari, among others, provided resources to the event.

“It would be very difficult to be as successful as it is without the volunteers,” said Operations Manager Steve Logan, of the Army Corps of Engineers.

For more information regarding the event, call the local corps office at 706-645-2937.

Publix Assistant Store Manager Wayne Woodruff and Associate Kevin Sazama grill up burgers for the event. Publix has supported the event since the company moved to LaGrange in 1995 and has been the corporate sponsor since 1996.
http://lagrangenews.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/web1_Special3525-1.jpgPublix Assistant Store Manager Wayne Woodruff and Associate Kevin Sazama grill up burgers for the event. Publix has supported the event since the company moved to LaGrange in 1995 and has been the corporate sponsor since 1996. Alicia B. Hill | For the Daily News
Donica Knight and Jonathan Stephens entertain the crowd at the 39th annual Special Day for Special People.
http://lagrangenews.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/web1_Special3531-1.jpgDonica Knight and Jonathan Stephens entertain the crowd at the 39th annual Special Day for Special People. Alicia B. Hill | For the Daily News

By Alicia B. Hill

Daily News correspondent

Alicia B. Hill is a correspondent for the LaGrange Daily News. Reach her at 706-884-7311.