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Holiday Happiness Party delivers greatest gifts of all to RVO and Salisbury Academy

SALISBURY — Christmas comes early each year for Salisbury Academy students, staff and their friends at Rowan Vocational Opportunities.

At the annual RVO Holiday Happiness Party designed and led by Salisbury Academy’s seventh- and eighth-grade students, everyone involved receives the gifts of smiles, acceptance and a sense of cheer that can only be the Christmas spirit.

“Our clients remember this party each year and start talking about it weeks in advance,” said Gary Yelton, executive director for RVO. “They’re always excited to know that Salisbury Academy will be coming.”

At the party, students lead activities that they design themselves, from karaoke, to miniature golf, to a holiday photo booth. Some students sing carols while others serve refreshments or assist the RVO clients in decorating their own holiday treats.

Amid the excitement, student Lucas Peffer was busy helping at the ornament-making station.

“It’s so special that we can all come together and be happy,” said Peffer. “We are all just people, and everyone needs care and compassion.”

In the weeks leading up to the party, Salisbury Academy students hold an extensive drive for items that the RVO community needs, ranging from toiletries, to clothing, to microwaves. These items are delivered when students arrive for the Holiday Happiness Party and this year will be distributed to the RVO community at their organization’s Christmas party on Dec. 23.

“The gifts and support items do so much,” said Wilson Cherry, director of community affairs for RVO. “Some of our people wouldn’t have any Christmas at all if it weren’t for Salisbury Academy.”

The connection between RVO and Salisbury Academy began over 10 years ago when alumni parent Greg Alcorn connected Heather Coulter, curriculum director for Salisbury Academy, with Cherry. Since that day, the party has become a tradition that no Christmas would be complete without.

Tara Seaford, innovations program manager for RVO, observed the festivities at the party, a wide smile on her face.

“These students have hearts of gold and it shows,” said Seaford. “I think it’s wonderful that the children get exposure to our community. It’s a beautiful thing to see them mingling.”

The Holiday Happiness Party serves just over 100 members of the RVO community. RVO as a whole engages 130 people each day through enrichment and life skills classes, outings and their Adult Developmental Vocational Program. Through the ADVP program, individuals have the opportunity to work in a factory environment that simulates a typical factory setting and assemble a variety of products, from breaker panels, to flag poles, to inflated soccer balls.

“We don’t think about a person’s disabilities but rather we focus on what they’re capable of,” said Cherry. “We consider them to be ‘differently abled,’ and there are many jobs that they can do even better than someone who isn’t disabled.”

This year’s party closed with singing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” Students packed up their stations and loaded the bus, a perceptible lightness in their steps.

“The nature of this annual event is just so beautiful,” said Coulter. “Through this experience our students get just as much as our RVO friends do, if not more. It’s really an expression of the true meaning of Christmas.”

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