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Exceptional kids help spread Christmas joy
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Dawson County Fire Chief Jamerson Kerby adds a shirt into the shopping cart while Laura Morales, Cheyanne McKinley and Juan Perez double check their shopping list during Tuesday's shopping spree for KARE for Kids at Walmart. - photo by Jessica Taylor

Members of Dawson County Emergency Services recently teamed up with the exceptional students of Dawson County to spread Christmas cheer this holiday season.

Early Nov.28, the enthusiastic group including firefighters and members of the Dawson County Schools Community Based Instruction program were eager to be Santa’s elves, helping KARE for Kids make Christmas dreams come true by shopping for presents for those in need in the community.

“This is a way the fire department gives back to the community," said Chief Jamerson Kerby, who was responsible for putting together the event. “We all volunteer so we’re all tickled about it.”

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(L to R): Lt. Todd Holloway, Tyler Ames, Chief Jamerson Kerby, KARE for Kids representative Alexa Bruce, Lt. Chris Morris and his wife Jaye Morris, Austin Martin and Ben Adams were ready Nov. 28 to do some shopping with the Dawson County CBI students. - photo by Jessica Taylor

While Dawson County firefighters have been volunteering for the past several years with KARE for Kids, this is only the second year that Community Based Instruction, or CBI, students have joined in the fun.

“[The fire department] invited us here last year to do the first KARE for Kids shopping where they would pair up with our kids,” said Edith Banta, the CBI program lead. “It was amazing and we’re just thrilled to be here again. The kids were so excited when they knew they were coming.”

Last year, the CBI program had 12-15 kids helping the firefighters. With the realignment of the high and junior high schools, 27 exceptional students showed up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at Walmart that morning.

“We’re all here today for KARE for Kids,” said Banta.

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The students and teachers in the CBI program, members of the Dawson County Fire Department and KARE for Kids representative Alexa Bruce posed for a group photo before the shopping began. This year there were 27 CBI students excited to help spread Christmas cheer. - photo by Jessica Taylor

Last year, the nonprofit provided Christmas to 723 Dawson County children.

“Having these kids actually be a part of the community and give back to society and then help those in need and be with their friends and firemen and just all work together and give back to the community - honestly that’s what it’s about,” said Ashley Elliott, CBI program lead. “That’s what the season’s about – to give and do the right thing.”

Each fireman took a group of kids around with them to find the items they needed on their lists.

Alexa Bruce, a representative for KARE for Kids, was surprised how little there was left on their lists to get.

“There were many sponsors this year,” said Bruce.

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Tyler Ames consults with Adam Wells, Kathleen Artis, Paige Simmons and Andie Szal on which shoes to get for their KARE for Kids child. - photo by Jessica Taylor

Between the sponsorships and the caring volunteers, every item on the list was purchased.

Banta said she loves seeing her kids working together with the firemen to help other kids.

“They just seem to really be able to enjoy the shopping around and knowing that they are helping other kids,” said Banta.

“We do it for the kids,” said Kerby.

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Teacher Judy Harrall and Lt. Todd Holloway look for pants with Logan Summers, Javian Smith, Hannah Pruett and Tristian Hansard. - photo by Jessica Taylor

This isn’t the first time the CBI students have met with personnel from emergency services. Since the program’s resurgence last year, Banta and Elliott have joined forces with the fire department to meet once a month to teach important lessons.

“Captain Knowles and Chris Archer came to us and they realized when they go to these schools there’s really nothing there for this population,” said Elliott. “[They] came to us to write a curriculum with them on how to educate these kids and help.”

The CBI program was reinvigorated last year at Dawson County High School under director Hershel Bennett, director of exceptional  children for Dawson schools. There are currently 14 students participating in Community Based Vocational Instruction every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. 

While the younger kids in the program hold in-school jobs such as the school coffee shop, the older kids are learning invaluable skills in the community at Kroger, Hobby Lobby, Five Below and Marshalls.

Every Friday, the CBI students get out into the community to apply their skills and lessons they learn on Mondays. 

Banta and Elliott believe in the importance of community involvement with these students, which provides opportunities they might not otherwise have.

 The fire department and Bennett’s CBI “dream team” are hoping to present a curriculum to the state in the near future so they can continue and expand their community outreach.