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Annual Valentine’s dance big hit with special needs children

Jacob Smith • Feb 14, 2018 at 2:51 PM

What started as a small day out for Wilson County’s special needs students 20 years ago has become an annual event with more than 500 participants.

MaryAnn Wheeler and Marie Porto have been around since the first year, when the event just involved serving sandwiches and giving the children a chance to get out.

“We started out just bringing sandwiches and stuff like that and cookies and stuff,” said Porto. “Some of the schools would bring stuff.”

This year’s event at the James E. Ward Agricultural Center featured food, face paining and a dance, all sponsored and worked by volunteers. Some of the sponsors for the event included Corey’s Hot Dogs, Immanuel Baptist Church and Wilson County bus drivers. The Wilson County bus drivers were the ones who set up and planned the event.

“This is the only field trip many students will take all year long,” said bus driver Mary Goodman. “A group of bus drivers started this years ago, and the students love coming here. We do it because we love them, not because we have to.”

More than 500 people came to this year’s event. The dance floor was an especially popular attraction and stayed packed with dancers throughout the morning.

“When we started off, these kids didn’t go anywhere,” said Wheeler. “Some of them never left their house or school. They danced in a classroom, and we just decided, well, we’re going to have something for them.”

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