Elks treat autistic children, military familes to special day
Northwest Florida Daily News - 9/21/2019
Sep. 21--OKALOOSA ISLAND -- It was as if Christmas came early Saturday at Elks Lodge 1795, where songs filled the air, toy cars and dolls lined one full end of the dining room, hamburgers were sizzling on the grill, bubbles filled the skies and vibrantly hued snow cones were everywhere.
And there were pontoon boat rides, too.
Of course, it wasn't Christmas, but it was close for the dozens of kids and their families who came to the Elks' seventh annual Kids on the Water and Military Appreciation Day. The event was open to all children and families, according to past Elks District Deputy Sid Potter, but it was especially meant for children and families dealing with autism and for military families.
As part of their charitable works, Elks across Florida provide therapists to some children dealing with autism. As part of that task, the Elks provide vans for therapists to use in their work.
Kids on the Water is the result of Potter asking the local Elks district's therapist, Elizabeth Maina, what else could be done for the children.
"She said, 'I've got a lot of kids who will never be able to do the things regular kids do'," Potter recalled.
So Elks Lodge 1795 stepped in with the event so kids with autism and their families could enjoy a family day free of worry about how their children would be perceived and treated. A feature of the day has been free pontoon boat rides, courtesy of Aloha Pontoon Rentals in Destin.
"Hopefully, they get to see some dolphins, or some stingrays or some birds," said Linda Mayfield, a past exalted ruler of the local Elks lodge who was in charge of the pontoon rides Saturday. "For some kids, this is their first boat ride. ... We just had a baby get on board."
On Saturday, representatives of all seven Elks lodges in the local district, which stretches from the Alabama state line east to Panama City, were Saturday on hand to cook hamburgers, make sure each child who attended got a toy and get them safely on and off the pontoon boats.
Potter remembered a previous year's Kids on the Water, when he overheard two young girls. "These two little girls said, 'This is the best day of my life'," he said.
According to Maina, Kids on the Water is valuable and needed time for families dealing with autism.
"It's an opportunity for the whole family to come where they're not being judged," she said. "They come here and just have fun. ... It's a break for the parents as well."
For Potter, though, the day comes down to four simple words for him and the Elks: "We believe in kids."
(c)2019 the Northwest Florida Daily News (Fort Walton Beach, Fla.)
Visit the Northwest Florida Daily News (Fort Walton Beach, Fla.) at www.nwfdailynews.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.