Jessie James, with her mom, Christina, at the Center for the Visually Impaired's Halloween party in Atlanta, Friday, October 25, 2013
Christopher Buttone, with his mom, Tee, at the Center for the Visually Impaired's Halloween party in Atlanta, Friday, October 25, 2013
ATLANTA -- It is haunted house season, and Friday night some very brave children, in all their costumed glory, walked gingerly through a haunted house in Midtown Atlanta that was the scariest they've ever known.
The children are visually-impaired, the halls and rooms were designed just for them, and the kids were able to experience, with delight, the gift of fright.
There was even an hor d'oeuvre table where they could help themselves to some fresh people brains, and joyously emit 500-decibel screams as they touched the gooey, jiggling mass, which was right next to a side dish of eyeballs.
The entire "house" of Halloween horrors for visually impaired children was full of treats and tricks tailored just for them by the surprisingly ghoulish -- but seasonally appropriate -- Atlanta Center for the Visually Impaired.
"I felt a person's brains! But it was actually Jello," explained Jessie James, laughing as she emerged with her mother, Christina.
"Our haunted house experience plays to all of their senses as they go through," said Heather Ferro, Program Director of the Center's STARS program -- Social Therapeutic Academic Recreational Services. "So they may be brushed along the side of the face by a spider. Or they may get to taste kidney sliders in the People Eatery."
And they could also be startled, in the halls infested with cobwebs and insects, by a roaring werewolf, somehow trusting through it all that it was all make-believe -- laughing between their screams, and clutching their parents' hands and not letting go.
This is the fourth year in a row the Center has given a Halloween party, transforming an entire floor of offices and hallways into the haunted house and game room for the children.
Ferro said about 175 kids and parents attended this year. It was for one night only. She hopes next year to expand the annual event, perhaps extend it over several nights to accommodate even more visually impaired children.
"One of the great things about our program [all year] is that we are supporting youth and their families to be a part of the community, and to experience the community in the same way that their sighted peers can see the community," Ferro said. "And so they're having the same experiences, and they don't feel like they're missing out on anything."
Rukiya Campbell of the Center said the serious work of the STARS program "provides elementary, middle and high school students the skills and self-confidence to live with vision loss. The program provides the children that feel isolated and alone the support they need from peers with the same disability... [participating] in various blind skill activities such as computer class, cooking, music, self-defense, fitness, nutrition and braille."
And, now, the children have a Halloween Haunted House, too.
"Oh this is wonderful, Christopher has never really experienced Halloween," said Tee Buttone, who spoke of how her son didn't want to come, at first; and then he didn't want to leave.
"He's really enjoying it, it's been great. It means a lot for them."
And Jessie James loved the people brains.
"I wasn't scared at all, actually. Well, I was a little bit nervous."