There were carnival rides and gift bags from Santa overflowing with goodies at the Showmen’s Club’s eighth annual Special Needs Christmas Party, held Dec.15 at the IISA’s Club Grounds in Gibsonton.
“Kids are kings at this party,” said master of ceremonies Lee Stevens. “We’re just here to make sure they have a wonderful time.”
“I love seeing these kids happy, enjoying the rides and having fun,” said Rebekah Dulaney, an Early Exceptional Learning Program (EELP) teacher from Gibsonton Elementary. Now in its eighth year, the holiday event offers a day of festive fun to youngsters, some of them battling debilitating conditions such as leukemia, cancer, Down syndrome, and other physical and emotional disabilities.
Children enjoyed carnival rides, visits with Santa and Mrs. Claus, plus homemade cookies, holiday treats, and gift bags stuffed with toys, art supplies, puzzles, and games, donated by local benefactors from the community. Hillsborough County Schools furnished buses to transport students to the holiday event, while Showmen’s Club members wrapped presents and baked cookies for more than 300 kids from kindergarten to grade 12.
“It’s a team effort, as always,” said Shriner Scooter Ryals, one of the many workers and “cookie eaters” who worked hard to put the holiday party together.
“To me, this is the spirit of Christmas,” said Karen Arnold, who attended with her daughter, Lauren, and sister Sandy Schmidt. “We’ve been coming to this party every year for several years. We never miss it.”
The International Independent Showmen’s Association (IISA) is a nonprofit private organization made up of people in the outdoor amusement industry. The original club building opened in 1966 and has expanded to be the largest Showmen’s Association in the nation, with 4,500 members from all over the U.S. and several foreign countries. The enormous facility in Gibsonton was built by funds raised solely by its own members, many of them retired seniors.
The IISA hosts myriad charity events and fundraisers that benefit the community. In addition to funding events like the Christmas party, the club also sponsors scholarships for worthy high school students to attend the University of South Florida.
“Putting on these events is a lot of work, but well worth it,” said Randy Burnett, lead organizer for activities for the 2015-16 season. “We couldn’t do it without the efforts of our hardworking members, plus the extremely generous sponsors from the community.”
The Showmen’s Club has been supporting local charities for decades, most often without publicity. They have consistently raised money for the Shriners Hospitals for Children, hospice groups and the Moffitt Cancer Center, among others. Regular corporate sponsors include Walmart, Allied Insurance Co., plus a host of local small businesses. The club also relies on members to give generous donations of money, time and talent to their events.
“People don’t realize how much we do for the community, including kids, veterans, and senior citizens,” said Burnett. This year’s Christmas schedule includes the Children’s Special Needs Christmas party, plus an adult Christmas party, and one for senior citizens from the local community.
Upcoming events at the Gibsonton Showmen’s Club include the 47th annual “Super Trade Show Extravaganza” Feb. 3-7, featuring the world’s largest outdoor amusement devices ever displayed, as well as the much anticipated Showmen’s Circus, to be held Saturday, Jan. 9, benefiting local charities.
For more information, visit www.gibtownshowmensclub.com or call 813-677-3590.