NORMAN — An elementary choir sang, a fleet of golf carts decked out in Christmas gear lined pathways, a 30-foot Christmas tree was lit up and holiday cheer was in the air.
Those are just some of the things attendees of the J.D. McCarty Center enjoyed Monday night at 2002 E. Robinson St. during the 22nd Annual Christmas Lighting Party.
The J.D. McCarty Center is a pediatric rehabilitation center that focuses on children with developmental disabilities. It is the only one of its kind in the state helping children from birth up until the age of 21.
“The light party has been a tradition of beginning the Christmas season,” said Greg Gaston, marketing director of J.D. McCarty Center.
The ceremony has become a tradition to kick-off the Christmas season for the east side of Norman drawing hundreds of people every year. Gaston said it started off small with just staff and in-patients at the hospital but has grown exponentially over the years.
It began when the center was located off of 12th Ave north of Alameda St and has since moved over to the new center located off of Robinson St. Now the ceremony not only involves staff and in-patients, but also families of staff, in-patients, out-patients and members of the community who all join in on the festivities.
For those involved with the center, Gaston said it is an event that helps bring everyone together. In 2004, they added the golf cart parade which helps staff and the children be more involved and have more participation. Decorating and displaying their float creations every year is a big part of that.
“From the very beginning it’s been amazing,” Gaston said of the floats. “They’ve been immensely creative.”
This year the theme for the parade was “Famous Christmas Characters”. It featured floats such as Rudolf, Frosty the Snowman and of course everyone’s favorite -- Santa Claus.
Children clapped, cheered and waved Monday when Santa brought up the rear of the golf cart parade. The commissioners, who are the governing board of the McCarty Center judged the contest for the best float.
Winning floats this year included a nutcracker float taking third place, put together by the therapy department earning a reward of $75. Second place went to the psychology department with their “Island of Misfit Toys” float earning a reward of $100. First place went to Unit Four of the hospital with an abominable snowman putting a star on top of a Christmas tree, earning a reward of $125.
All of the money for the prizes was donated by “The 40 et 8 of Oklahoma”, a veteran’s group which founded the center, and other donors.
Master of Lighting Ceremony
This year’s Master of Lights was Carolyn Harris, a retired educator of 40 years. As Harris pulled down the giant switch to light the 30-foot Christmas tree at the center, cheers and applause came from the whole crowd.
Harris said being part of the ceremony was about showing love to the children.
“You demonstrate that by continuing to be a part of their lives,” she said. “It’s always been about volunteering. People see me volunteering and I hope that inspires others to do the same.”
Harris said volunteering isn’t just for those with “gray hair” either.
“I choose to do this. It’s not that I just have nothing better to do,” she said.
The volunteerism is something that has become a part of her family as well. Harris said her own daughter was there with her one-month-old child to be part of the Christmas tradition and to show their support.
“She knows it means so much to me,” Harris said. “I come out here and give a donation to (the center) and my children do the same.”
Other Christmas events at center
The center will also have several other Christmas events including a party put on by the Oklahoma Municipal Contractor’s Association Dec. 11 and a type of “Santa’s Helpers” party put on The 40 et 8 of Oklahoma.
The veterans group helps provide gifts for the children. Donations are accepted for this event. Gaston said it helps because for some children at the hospital, that will be the only Christmas present they receive.
For more information contact Greg Gaston at 307-2807.