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Gregory Allday thrust his hands over his head, pushing the colorful fabric of a parachute up and away.
The wheelchair-bound Vinson-Bynum Elementary School student was one of 278 students from 11 schools participating in the Exceptional Children Easter Egg Hunt at the Gillette Athletic Complex on Wednesday.
“He’s having a blast. He is just loving it,” said Gwen Thompson, a teacher assistant at the school.
The event was sponsored by The Arc of Wilson County with substantial financial backing from BB&T, which took the annual event on as one of its Lighthouse Projects.
“The best thing is to see all my buddies. All my friends are here,” said Zackary Jordan, 16, a Hunt High School student. “I have old friends from Forest Hills, Fike, you name it. I’m just very excited to see all my buddies here.”
Organizers spread Easter eggs out on the soccer fields and invited the children to take baskets out and collect as many as they could pick up.
“I just want to thank all those that put this on,” Zackary said. “This is one out of five events that they put on every year and I just want to give them all a big thanks today. It is a big deal for all of us. This is something I look forward to every year.”
The hunt has been going on at least a dozen years in Wilson.
“This is one of my favorite events of the year,” said Michael Stanford, executive director for The Arc of Wilson County. “We do get contributions from civic groups, but this year we submitted the Easter egg hunt to BB&T for a Lighthouse Project and we were lucky enough to get chosen, so they have done a huge part of it this year. Usually we have to supply the eggs and the snacks and the stuffing and buying the lunch for everybody, but this year they chose us so we haven’t had to worry about that, which is a big plus because it’s less expense on us as a nonprofit.”
Stanford said BB&T went “above and beyond.”
“This year, since BB&T took it on, they ordered way more eggs than we have ever had, which is good because we have way more students than we have ever had,” Stanford said. “They took care of everything for us this year, so it has been a lot easier. It’s nice to have them come out and see what the Arc does and see the population that we serve firsthand and see what an impact that they can have on the community.”
All exceptional children classes in Wilson County Schools from pre-K to 12th grade were invited to attend.
Windy Boswell, vendor manager at BB&T, said volunteers from multiple departments at the bank participated.
“The reason we chose this organization is we thought it was a great event for us to help within the bank, the special-needs kids,” Boswell said. “We were just so excited to put together 6,500 eggs, ordered 95 pizzas. We have done prize bags. We have done Easter bags. So it was good camaraderie for our team within BB&T. We are just so excited to be out here to help. I think it a special group within BB&T that feels the need to support our community. This is one of our projects that we are doing for our Lighthouse Projects. It is just a good feeling for our associates to be able to help such special kids.”
In addition to the eggs on the soccer fields, this year, eggs were placed on tables for children who are in wheelchairs.
The Arc’s Kerri Wheeler had the idea to do it that way.
“My niece was in a chair and we noticed that she didn’t have a lot of things and was always kind of pushed to the side, so whenever we try to help people feel included, it’s what matters the most. It makes them so happy and it brings a smile to their face being able to hold the eggs,” Wheeler said. “Last year their aides were helping them pick them up from the ground and I just thought ‘Why don’t we just bring it up to them?’ and it looks like it turned out pretty good. Maybe next year we will double it up because we had so many people.”
Kim Mercer, a pre-K teacher assistant at Vick Elementary School, said the egg hunt is successful because everyone works together.
“Everybody does teamwork,” Mercer said. “They are eager to help the kids and they love seeing them learn. I think all of us pulling together, that’s what does it.”
Stanford said the volunteers make the event happen.
“We could not do it without you,” Stanford said. “I also want to mention that we have a lot of volunteers from the Wilson Police Department that come out. Ms. Tammy Hobbs, an administrator for the police department, bakes cupcakes for every one of the children every year.”
The Arc’s board of directors also volunteered.
Stanford said he hopes BB&T will join in the egg hunt again next year.
“Maybe this is the beginning of a great partnership,” Stanford said. “Maybe they will enjoy it so much that they want to do it every year.”