FARIBAULT, Minn. -- Each month, KARE TV recognizes outstanding volunteers in our community as part of the "Eleven Who Care" program. Anne Melchert is the latest honoree.
Anne is co-founder of Fiesta Time, a Faribault ministry for kids with special needs.
"We wanted them to be able to come to a place where they can be themselves, be comfortable. And also we wanted their siblings to be able to come and be with them," Anne said.
What Anne and co-founder Brian McDonnell came up with in 2005 is a once-a-month play group for these kids. Five years into her ministry, Anne is still the group's biggest cheerleader.
"It's kind of like a respite program for friends and families with special needs," she said.
Based out of Divine Mercy Catholic Church in Faribault, Fiesta Time is as much for the parents as it is for the kids.
"They just didn't have a place where they felt comfortable or where they felt comfortable leaving their kids," Anne said.
There are kids like a girl named Tonya who is sensitive to loud sounds and Taylor whose autism often keeps him from getting close to the action. They are children who say they love coming to Anne's parties.
"She's the best. She makes up nice activities and cool stuff," participant Rebecca Stroh said.
"She's just an amazing person," said Karen Sommers, Taylor's mom. "This is his outing; his social interaction with other families. Now we go out in public and people say 'hi' and greet him. Because of this event he is accepted in the community besides. Annie has opened the door in many different ways."
"Every person is important. That's really how we want people to feel when they come to Fiesta Time," Anne added.
Important? At the March meeting Anne and the other Fiesta Time volunteers make the kids feel like rock stars. Among the fun at this event is a rock and roll sing along that comes complete with sunglasses and inflatable guitars. There's also a bunny hop with a giant rabbit and a gold fish racing.
"Every person, no matter what ability they have, no matter what their age, has a place," Anne said.
Everyone has a place. Even Taylor finds his at Fiesta Time. Eventually, the boy who has a hard time getting close to the fun finds himself in the middle of it as he enjoys a dance with Anne.
"It is a very big relief. When we leave them we know they're with somebody who understands their needs. It's like they're family members," Karen said.
Fiesta Time is like a big family with one really cool big sister named Anne.
Anne and co-founder Brian McDonnell used their own money to start the program. It is offered free of charge to families with special needs children. They happily accept donations to fund future parties.
To learn more about Fiesta Time, visit http://web.me.com/fiestatime/fiestatime.org/Welcome.html.
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