2017-05-18 / Family

Special-needs kids get first dibs at CVD

By Dawn Megli-Thuna


FUN IN THE SUN— Lef t, Johnny Brown, 5, of Thousand Oaks climbs a rope ladder while navigating through Pirate Island during Special Kids Day on May 12 at Conejo Valley Days in Thousand Oaks. Above, Donnovan Degnon, 3, of Thousand Oaks plays in the water at Ray’s Fishin’ Hole. FUN IN THE SUN— Lef t, Johnny Brown, 5, of Thousand Oaks climbs a rope ladder while navigating through Pirate Island during Special Kids Day on May 12 at Conejo Valley Days in Thousand Oaks. Above, Donnovan Degnon, 3, of Thousand Oaks plays in the water at Ray’s Fishin’ Hole. Imagine a carnival without the crowds. No waiting to ride the bumper cars or order a hot dog—just step right up to the front of the line. For special-needs children in Thousand Oaks, this dream becomes reality for one day every May.

For the past 37 years, Conejo Valley Days has invited the youngsters to its midway the day before opening night so that kids with disabilities can enjoy the amusements before the general public descends on the annual western-themed fair.

Zonta Club of the Conejo Valley, a women’s service organization, has been the driving force behind the tradition. More than 200 children from local schools attended this year’s event last Friday, and 100 Bank of America employees were on hand in matching red shirts to accompany the children around the grounds at Conejo Creek South and offer assistance boarding and disembarking from rides.


Photos by BOBBY CURTIS/Acorn Newspapers Photos by BOBBY CURTIS/Acorn Newspapers Heather Cota is Bank of America’s community volunteer coordinator and the mother of a special-needs child. She said parents like her tend to avoid crowded, high-intensity environments, which can be difficult to navigate with a child that experiences sensory issues.

“This is the coolest thing ever,” she said. “It’s the only way these kids could get to enjoy this.”

Cota’s daughter, Lily, is a fifth-grader at Aspen Elementary. The 11-year-old said she looks forward to the event every year.

“It’s fun,” Lily said. “I like the face painting.”

Cota said CVD’s new ride operator, Kastl Amusements, opened the most rides and concession stands ever for the day.

In addition riding bumper cars, children enjoyed a carnival helicopter ride and a super slide before being treated to a hot dog lunch provided by the Thousand Oaks Elks.

Both a ladder and an engine company from Ventura County Fire Department were on display, as were police vehicles from the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office.

Admission was free for children and their families, thanks to corporate donations from companies including Coca-Cola, Pacific Beverage, Vons, Ralphs and Starbucks, said CVD chairwoman Debbie Ecklund.

But companies weren’t the only ones who made the day possible. Volunteer Devin Trudeau attended Special Kids Day from kindergarten through sixth grade. Now a senior at Thousand Oaks High School, the 17-year-old said he likes to help out at the event because he said he wanted to give back.

“It meant a lot to me as a kid,” he said. “It doesn’t hurt that my grandma is an organizer, so of course I help.”

Mary Lou Miller was the CVD chairperson for Special Kids Day. She’s volunteered for the event for 34 years. Despite all the work involved in organizing the annual tradition, she’s committed to making sure it returns for years to come.

“I won’t stop doing it,” Miller said. “It’s a feel-good day.”

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