By Jay Roberson
AS community members arrived at the Mercer Room on April 14, they were handed tickets and given the opportunity to earn more by playing carnival games like ring toss and bean bag toss. Each semester, the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) hosts an end-of-semester celebration and invites individuals who have disabilities to participate in a night of music, food and fun.
Community members filled the room and sat at tables with mask scratch art, board games and popcorn. Sophomore elementary education major Cassidy Petrone said one of her favorite parts about CEC events was the new connections formed.
“I love to see how happy the community members get. I think they love to talk to new people, and we’re new people for them,” Petrone said.
Each community member received more tickets with each activity they participated in, and their assigned Rider buddy helped them keep count of the tickets so they could cash them in for prizes at the end.
Professor of education and advisor of the CEC Diane Casale-Giannola emphasized that the CEC aims to make everyone feel included and Rider students can do this just by having conversations with community members.
“I think the Rider community steps up and supports families in the community with special needs. Everyone is welcome, special needs or not. We [students] are their typical peers because we’re young adults like they are,” said Casale-Giannola.
Junior elementary education major and CEC President Kayla Kanarkowski talked about the process of planning its events and how the executive board decides on what activities to include in each event.
“The party we had last year had a lot of responses where everyone loved it. We were like, ‘Why not implement it again?’ We added even more activities, so we kind of tried to implement old events and different activities,” Kanarkowski said.
Everyone took a break from playing carnival games when pizza was being served. After eating, the guests were back on their feet to compete with each other for the prize of 25 tickets. Attendees were put into pairs and played a game of ring toss, but the challenge was to keep moving farther and farther away.
“[The event] provides inclusion to everyone, it doesn’t matter who they are … . It’s just so much fun to have a nice night with everyone together and everyone getting along,” said Kanarkowski.
The night ended with group pictures, the selection of prizes and the long-standing tradition of a dance party. Junior elementary education major and Vice President of the CEC Kruti Rawal talked about her favorite part of the night.
“We have a dance at the end, a little dance party. So those are usually my favorite parts because we all just get together at the end and let it all out,” said Rawal.
Casale-Giannola explained that many people tend to forget individuals with disabilities when it comes to inclusion. These events are aimed to be fully inclusive by giving community members an outlet for making new friends and socializing.
“Events like this are really important to campus, especially in this climate,” Casale-Giannola said. “Like diversity, equity and inclusion, but everybody forgets that inclusion was a word we used for special education historically to include individuals with special needs in the general population.”