Not much in 2020 can qualify as normal or routine, but the Association of Children with Down Syndrome’s very own Santa Claus refused to let Covid-19 disrupt his favorite time of the year.
Longtime Rockville Centre resident Barry Shimkin has brought joy to hundreds of children for the past 26 years by donning his red suit (he’s on suit No. 3), fluffy white beard and a bag full of presents to share with ACDS students with disabilities.
This year, pandemic restrictions nearly put an end to visits from Santa. But Shimkin would not be deterred. Working in conjunction with the ACDS Parent Teacher Organization, last weekend he decided to hop in his sleigh — in this case, the custom vehicle ACDS utilizes to bring students to its Early Intervention clinic — put on a festive protective mask and bring holiday cheer to kids all over Nassau County and parts of Suffolk County in lieu of their usual visits to ACDS headquarters in Plainview.
“It’s been the best day of the year for me since I started playing Santa,” Shimkin said. “Seeing the look on the kids’ faces is a wonderful thing. It’s a pleasure beyond belief.”
He and his wife, Jane, ACDS’s director of early intervention services, donated the funds this year to purchase gifts to ensure that children have something special as they experience the magic of the season. “Barry and Jane are a very special couple,” ACDS Executive Director Michael Smith said. “We can’t let outsiders into the building this year and it was their idea to bring gifts to kids’ homes. Barry always says it’s the one day on his calendar nobody can touch. All we had to do was provide some bottles of Diet Coke to keep him going.”
Between noon and 4 p.m. last Saturday and Sunday, the Shimkins, along with ACDS music teacher Maureen Goff, made stops in Baldwin, Bethpage, Carle Place, Elmont, Farmingdale, Glen Cove, Hempstead, Hicksville, Island Park, Levittown, Locust Valley, Long Beach, Lynbrook, Massapequa, Merrick, New Hyde Park, Oceanside, Old Bethpage, Plainview, Port Washington, Seaford, Syosset, Valley Stream, Wantagh, Westbury and Woodmere.
Two families in Oceanside, the Patissos and the Lucases, received visits from Santa last Saturday. “My daughter was completely surprised, and it was so beautiful,” said Leanna Patisso, mother of Ariana. “She was so excited to see Santa.”
Maeve Lucas, too, was awestruck to see him, her mother, Melissa said, and was busy all weekend playing with her gift — an interactive dress-up Santa with Velcro pieces. “It was very sweet,” Melissa said. “Barry and Jane and Maureen all volunteered their time on a Saturday to make kids happy.”
With headquarters in Plainview, ACDS is dedicated to providing lifetime resources to those with Down syndrome, autism and other developmental disabilities. Since 1966 the agency has been helping them develop to their fullest potential. On Long Island, it works with people from birth through adulthood and offers programs for entire families.
ACDS currently serves more than 1,000 people through home-based and clinical early intervention; preschool special education; respite and recreation programs for children, teens, and adults; Brokerage/Self Direction and Fiscal Intermediary Services; day habilitation; and eight supervised group homes. For more information, go to www.acds.org or call (516) 933-4700.