All smiles: Fall Fling makes fun day for special-needs students

By NEAL WAGNER / Managing Editor

ALABASTER – The excitement was immediately evident as Calera Intermediate School student Tyler Barton saw the fish on the end of his line at the small pond at Alabaster’s Veterans Park on Oct. 21.

“What kind of fish is it?” Barton asked excitedly.

“That’s a brim,” answered Tristan Johnson, a peer helper from Montevallo High School who was volunteering at the event.

After having their photo taken with the fish, Johnson helped Barton toss the fish back into the pond as they both shouted “Fish overboard!”

For the about 150 special-needs elementary students from the Alabaster and Shelby County school systems and the dozens of volunteers from Blue Cross Blue Shield, Montevallo High, the Alabaster Arts Council and the Alabaster Parks and Recreation Department, the Oct. 21 Fall Fling was all about smiles.

“So far, everything has been great. Everyone seems happy,” Johnson said. “It really brings you joy to watch them enjoying themselves.”

This year marked the 10th anniversary for the event, which features activities and games designed to allow special-needs students from several area schools to come together and enjoy a day at the park.

“It provides them with an outdoor environment that is fun, social and recreational,” said Alabaster Parks and Recreation Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist Alicia Walters. “It brings a smile to their faces, which is what it’s really about.”

Of the about 150 students who took part in the Fall Fling, more than half were from the Alabaster City School System, said Meadow View Elementary School Principal Rachea Simms.

“The kids get so excited to be a part of this,” Simms said. “The community really comes together to make this successful.”

The event also provided a perfect environment for participants in the Shelby County School System’s special-needs job training program, said SCS Job Coach Cindy Vinson. Working alongside other volunteers at the fishing lake was Matthew Young, a Helena High School senior and participant in the job training program.

“He is really good at interacting with the students,” Vinson said as Young excitedly cheered the elementary students who were reeling in fish. “This is a perfect environment for him to get that kind of experience.”