Christmas cheer for a beloved Wildcat

By SASHA JOHNS / Community Columnist

One of Shelby’s most loved had a special outpouring of Christmas cheer this month from her community.

Shelby resident, 23-year-old Hannah Ziegler-Benson, is an alumni of the Working Wildcat program at Shelby County High School. The Working Wildcats program is a very unique special needs classroom spearheaded by teacher Marisole Lilly.  Benson was one of Lilly’s first freshman in the program.

“Mrs. Lilly and Hannah started SCHS together,” Mandi Benson, Hannah’s mom said.

The pandemic, though hard on everyone, can sometimes be a little tougher on those with special needs.

“There isn’t a lot for her to do to begin with,” her mom said, “So sometimes we have to get creative.”

And that’s exactly what she did.

One of Hannah’s joys is receiving mail. When it isn’t too cold, she loves to take the long walk down their driveway to check the mail and see if the mail lady, Benita, has delivered something for her. On Dec. 10, her mom posted a special Christmas wish, asking her friends on Facebook to flood the mailbox with mail over the holidays, just for Hannah. And that’s exactly what they did.

As the cards and letters began to arrive, so did other special deliveries and visits. Just before the holiday’s Hannah’s sister Libby delivered twins, twenty-five week preemies, into the family. If that wasn’t enough excitement, Santa made a visit to the family on Dec. 12 to get Hannah in the spirit for the coming weeks.

“She’s still a believer at age 23 so it made her day,” Benson said.

As the days went by, mail began arriving from as far as California. She received cards of all types, handmade, 3D, singing cards, and even a very special card from Mrs. Lilly’s Working Wildcats. Some friends even went as far as sending gifts.

The icing on the cake was one last visit from Santa along with Mrs. Claus on Christmas Eve.

“It was a nice quiet Christmas,” her mother said. “Just close family to snuggle the new twins, and visits from the Clauses and Hannah’s boyfriend.”

Mandi Benson, who is well acquainted with the extra help that would be beneficial to families with special needs, is working toward a program that will offer a little extra support to a wide range of needs in the community. Bridging the Gap will be a very special project that will pair up community volunteers to be mentors to those with special needs or companions to those in the community who might need them.

To date, Hannah has received over 80 pieces of mail since her mom sent out her Christmas wish on Facebook, and she believes they may keep coming on into the new year too.

If you would like to find out how to make sure Hannah’s mailbox stays full of cheer, or how you may be able to help Benson with Bridging the Gap, email her at mziegler3377@yahoo.com.