Special Day for Special People returns after COVID hiatus with food and fun

Published 9:00 am Saturday, October 8, 2022

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By: Charlotte Reames

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers celebrated its 43rd annual Special Day for Special People event Thursday at the Rocky Point Recreation area in Troup County. Crowds gathered at the recreational park for a day of fun with music, food, boat rides and a petting zoo.

“It gets people outdoors,” said Supervisory Park Ranger David Barr. “And it’s a free event for them, and it’s a lot of fun, where they can get out and just be themselves.”

The goal of the event is to provide a fun, safe environment for individuals with disabilities and older adults. Every year, the park rangers send invitations to local schools like Troup County and Lanett City schools as well as adult day dare, assisted living and senior living facilities.

Barr hopes the event builds awareness for the park grounds and the local communities of individuals with disabilities and seniors.

“This event is very safe,” Barr said. “It’s very secure. A lot of these adult day care facilities don’t go to any event but this one, because they know it’s so well organized.”

The Special Day for Special People began in 1978 when the Corps of Engineers rangers decided to organize a day of fun for individuals with disabilities. What began as a small event has grown year after year until it reached a sprawling 800 to 1000 participants.

According to Barr, Thursday’s event hosted around 500 guests. However, due to the threat of COVID-19, many senior living homes did not attend this year.

This year LaGrange Publix was the corporate sponsor for the event. Coca-Cola also volunteers its resources to the rangers every year. The two companies provide the food and beverages.

The Special Day event featured a petting zoo facilitated by the Wild Animal Safari in Pine Mountain, Georgia. This year Highland Pines also donated four pontoon boats for the day for boat rides.

“They may never get a chance to ride on a boat,” Barr said. “It’s a lot of ‘firsts’ for a lot of people.”

One group that waited in line for the trolley to the dock was the Exceptional Way, a day program in Troup County that promotes “social and relationship development” and community engagement for individuals with disabilities, according to their website.

“We’ve been looking forward to this for weeks,” said Mary Beth Pelt, program facilitator for the Exceptional Way. “Each month we try to go on at least one outing like this.”

Though this is the first year the program has participated, Pelt has been involved with the Special Day event for years.

“I love coming here and having fun,” said Mackenzie Williams, a member of the Exceptional Way.

True to her outgoing personality, Williams and her friends enjoyed dancing to the music, visiting the photo booth and riding the trolley.

Barr has been organizing the event every year since 1992.

This year he hosted it for the last time before retiring this December. However, the ranger will likely still be lending a hand to his successor, Ranger Mike Linville, next year.

“It’s something I look forward to every year,” Barr said. “It’s a pretty moving event.”