News Article Details

Halloween Attraction in Ethel Caters to Special Needs Community

The Chronicle - 10/18/2018

Oct. 18--Everyone's entitled to a happy Halloween.

Ringing doorbells, incanting the immortal demand for either tricks or treats and gorging oneself on sugar-filled snacks fill many a childhood memory. But for some households, it's not that simple.

Christine Williams' niece, Emmaline Stover, is autistic and prone to outbursts, making trick-or-treating a highly difficult task. That's why Williams and her sister, Michelle Stover, started up their own Halloween event, one catered to the special needs community.

The Haunted Barn Party is now in its third year, and Williams said they expect their largest crowd yet. Their first year, around 30 people showed up; the second, attendance ballooned to around 150. This year, the crowds are anticipated at around 300. It's why the barn in Ethel will be open for two nights, said volunteer Rob Jenkins.

The barn, located at 258 Oyler Road in Ethel will be open from 6 to 8 p.m.Oct. 26 and from 3 to 6 p.m.Oct. 27.

Williams and Stover own the joint, which is lined with 12-by-12 foot stalls that used to house horses. Now, each stall is being outfitted as a unique room, where attendees can get candy and treats that were specifically picked to fit strict dietary restrictions.

The entire barn will undertake a pirate theme with a mood that's creepy, but not scary, said Williams. There're no gory decorations and nothing to overhype the senses or discombobulate, like strobe lights -- a common staple in haunted house attractions. Williams said these are all efforts to cater to their special needs audience.

Each stall represents different rooms on a pirate ship, said Jenkins, and they're built to be visible from a wheelchair.

"We have no investment in the illusions we create," said Williams, adding that they'll gladly turn a light on, and show someone how a trick in a certain stall or room works if something proves frightening.

Photographers will be around to take photos of attendees who want a souvenir, said Jenkins, and numerous events and activities will be available inside and outside the barn.

"The feedback from the community has been just overwhelmingly positive, because it's filling a void in our current community," said Williams.

She said that Emmaline, who's 17 years old, was rapidly running out of social venues available to an older teen with special needs. Others must have felt the same way, as the popularity of the barn has exploded over the past three years.

Recently, Williams said, schools have reached out, asking if the barn could be open during daytime hours, so special needs classes could be taken there during school hours.

That wasn't something the barn's volunteers could accommodate this year, said Williams, referencing one of the many challenges facing a growing grassroots community event: volunteers and resources. In coming days, the barn have a website. On the site, said Williams, they will make it clear what specific resources they need -- whether it be manpower or money. Free will donations are accepted during operating hours.


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