The Ashland Beacon
Throwing a Christmas party for children is a lot of fun, and especially touching for members of the local El Hasa Shrine Center; the children in attendance have, at some point in their young lives, been treated at Shriners Hospital for Children.
“This is one of our favorite nights,” said Potentate Jerry Blevins. “It’s a big event that requires a lot of planning and preparation. Our organizers do a great job!”
This year’s event included 71 children, from infants to teenagers. “This night is so special to us. It’s our 18th year, and four of these children have been coming since they were babies,” said Becky Rayborn who, along with her husband, Ike, is the official coordinator of the event.
Peals of laughter could be heard throughout the building as children greeted each other, and enjoyed the many activities offered – visits from Texas Roadhouse’s Andy the Armadillo, Frosty the Snowman, face painting, an area for creating Christmas ornaments, and a clown fashioning balloon animals.
The Shriners provided a dinner of hamburgers, hot dogs, and ice cream for the 71 patients and former patients, along with their parents and siblings. “We put this on strictly through donations,” said Mrs. Rayborn. “Each child receives a special gift purchased with a donation from a sponsor. And we make gift bags for all of the siblings.”
Bags and bags full of balloons were released among the crowds and the children had a ball chasing them and batting them around. There was even an area in the corner where families could have a group picture taken.
Children gathered round the stage as a Shriner read aloud “Twas the Night Before Christmas,” then some sang carols as anticipation built for the main event – Santa Claus! Santa handed out all of the wrapped presents, chosen specially for each child.
Mrs. Rayborn said that they learn of children who have been patients through word-of-mouth, and from Shriners who are part of the A Team – members who drive patients and their families to and from the Shriners Hospital. “If anyone knows of a child who has been treated there, please let us know, and we’ll include them.” She said they can call the Shrine office in Boyd County to notify the group of a patient to include.
“This was the brainchild of one of our members back in 2001. Vic Hopper was the potentate at that time,” Ike Rayborn said. “We include basically any child in driving distance – Boyd, Greenup, Carter and Lawrence counties.” He said his wife begins preparing letters to send out in July, seeking sponsors for the event, and letting the families know about the party. He said there are several Shrine clubs throughout the state, but only four El Hasa Shrine Centers, the Ashland group being one.
“We wanted to do something special for the four who’ve been coming since the beginning,” Ike Rayborn said. “They started as babies, and they’re still coming,” his wife added. Two of the boys, TJ McGinnis and Zachary got UK basketball tickets, Brianna Leggett got tickets to a country music concert, and Colton Adkins received a gift package with lots of movie tickets and cash for snacks.
Parents of the patients expressed their appreciation for the Shriners for the party as well as their support in helping transport their kids. “These Shriners are just great and we are really indebted to them for all that they do,” said one mother. “We look forward to the party, and the kids get some great gifts.”