At the beginning of 2018, the Knights of Columbus of Christ the Redeemer Catholic Church set a goal. They wanted to raise $10,000 for the Dawson County Schools Exceptional Children department. As of the Oct. 15 board of education meeting, the organization has raised $8,700 and is expected to raise $12,000 by the holiday break in December.
With the donations from the Knights, the Exceptional Children department has been able to provide a sensory room each at Riverview Elementary School and Dawson County Middle School, two at Dawson County High School and one in the works at Dawson County Junior High School.
Sensory rooms are therapeutic spaces with a variety of equipment that provide special needs students with sensory input, helping them to calm and focus themselves.
“Kids need sensory breaks,” said Exceptional Children Director Hershel Bennett. “They have a sensory diet to help them get through the day. Everybody on the board and everybody here has a sensory item they need in their diet. You may click a pen to think or you may have to have total quiet or you may have to have soft music in the background. That’s your sensory item. Well to help our kids succeed they provided sensory items.”
Sensory items donated by the Knights of Columbus include trampolines, swings, bouncy seats and weighted vests.
There was still a need to provide sensory items for students with muscular or neurological disorders that were unable to use the sensory items already provided.
“If you think about kids on the playground, every kid gets to be on a swing. It’s on every playground – merry-go-rounds, swings, movement things – well a lot of our kids can’t do that,” Bennett said. “They don’t get that sensory break during the day.”
The Knights of Columbus unveiled their latest donation to the program during the Oct. 15 board of education meeting that will help give those students the opportunity to have sensory breaks: tricycles.
The sturdy tricycles built for those with special needs come equipped with seat belts and rotating seats, hand cranks and the ability to strap students in from the head down to keep them safe.
“They’ll be able to go on coffee deliveries on the bikes. They’ll be able to use them if they need a break to go down to the gym and do a couple laps then come back,” Bennett said.
One of the bikes will be in front of Kroger as the Knights of Columbus ask for donations at their last fundraising weekend of 2018, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Nov. 9 and Nov. 10.
“We’re just glad to be involved,” said Knight member Thomas Gillespie. “We can’t go without thanking Kroger. I mean without Kroger allowing us to do this it just wouldn’t happen.”
Over four weekends throughout 2018, the Knights along with special education teachers in Dawson County schools handed out brochures and fund-raised outside of Kroger in Dawsonville to raise money to serve the needs of the special education students.
In the spring of 2017, Bennett said he received a phone call from Joe Hirsch, community relations director for the Knights of Columbus, expressing the organization’s interest in helping the program.
“I get probably four or five phone calls like that a year,” Bennett said. “Very few people follow through, but the Knights of Columbus followed through.”
The Knights of Columbus of Christ the Redeemer Catholic Church in Dawsonville is a charitable men’s organization that has chosen children with autism and special needs in Dawson County as their philanthropy.
The organization began raising money for autistic children six years ago, but they didn’t have a connection to the community until narrowing their focus to the Exceptional Children program at the end of 2017.
In 2017, the Knights joined the Dawsonville Civitan Club and Etowah Water and Sewer Authority as sponsors of the Spring Games, but they wanted to do more to get involved.
“We wanted the money to stay in the county and by chance we had one of our members is a special needs teacher and it kind of came together and… it blossomed,” Gillespie said. “It’s been a wonderful, wonderful opportunity for all of us.”