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Kids have barking good time

Volunteers give candy and treats to an estimated 500 children

BOARDMAN — As Tammy Cope was driving through a large parking lot and accepting candy and other Halloween-related items for her son, Sean, she thought about how he was paving the way for many at his school.

“He’s real sweet; he has his meltdowns, but he is very intelligent,” Cope said about Sean, 12, an East Palestine Middle School sixth-grader who was diagnosed with autism at age 3.

Perhaps adding to the sweetness factor was that Sean received plenty of candy, snack items and other treats during Sunday’s third annual all-inclusive Trunk or Treat in the Rulli Bros. parking lot, 8025 South Ave.

Hosting the four-hour gathering, the first hour of which was for children with special needs, were Miss Dana’s Diamonds and Elissa’s Entourage. Because of the ongoing health pandemic, the event was set up in a manner that resembled a large meandering drive-thru.

Proceeds are to be donated to Easter Seals and The Walnut Grove, an all-inclusive playground in Canfield that’s specially designed for children with special needs.

Sean, who also likes trains, cars and electronics, is “kind of paving the path” at his school largely by the example he sets for others, his mother said. Aiding him is a top-notch intervention team that provides counseling, occupational therapy and other services, added Cope, who works in the East Palestine School District with children on the autism spectrum.

The Trunk or Treat offered a taste of Halloween especially for some who may have difficulty taking part in such traditional activities. It also placed an emphasis on sensory-appropriate items and prizes while recognizing that many children and families likely were on special diets and had various food allergies.

More than 30 vehicles with open trunks filled the large parking lot to distribute a wide assortment of Halloween treats to an estimated 500 trick-or-treaters, noted Dana Winters, event organizer and owner of Boardman-based Miss Dana’s Diamonds, which offers tumbling classes and an all-star cheer program for children age 3 to 18 of all abilities.

Many of the people next to their trunks filled small baskets at the ends of 6- or 7-foot wooden sticks with candy to give to the youngsters to maintain social distancing.

Local businesses distributing treats included Easter Seals, the Youngstown YMCA, the Rich Center for the Study and Treatment of Autism, Hudec Dental, Sport Clips Haircuts, Chick-fil-A, the Autism Society of the Mahoning Valley and Paws Therapy Team, which also brought about 16 certified therapy dogs.

Judging from her body language, it was difficult to tell which Elisa Procopio, 6, enjoyed more: the Halloween items she received or time spent with LucyLu, a 6-year-old golden doodle that was one of the dogs on hand. For her father, Dan Procopio, however, the choice was more clear-cut.

“She enjoys this because she likes the dogs; she’s a real dog lover,” said Dan, who helped give out candy.

Elisa, who dressed as a witch, was diagnosed with Down syndrome and is in kindergarten at Hilltop Elementary School. For her part, she took home candy, bottles of bubble soap and pencils, her father said.

Rita McIntosh, a Paws Therapy Team board member, noted the organization came to the Trunk or Treat gathering partly to assist Miss Dana’s Diamonds. The organization also performs service projects to help other nonprofit groups, she said.

“Our dogs do library reading programs and are in the court system for kids who have to testify” and might be experiencing trauma, McIntosh explained, adding that the animals also visit nursing homes and assisted-living centers.

Many of the dogs were dressed in a variety of costumes for children to enjoy, even though the pandemic prevented them from being able to interact with the animals, McIntosh continued.

In addition, the Trunk or Treat gathering had several mascots and other forms of entertainment. Making an early appearance were Santa and Mrs. Claus.

news@tribtoday.com

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