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CHILD celebrates the holidays

By Katherine Sather

The holiday meal for staff, students and families at the Children's Institute for Learning Differences included a dish called ``bobotie.''

The South African casserole, made from turkey and spices, was served as part of an international theme at the school's annual holiday feast. CHILD has long been a regional hub for students with special needs. The holiday meal brings together their families, who live across Puget Sound, for a meal prepared and served by students.

``There's not many opportunities to do this,'' said Ann Rosas, a spokesperson for the school.

Founded in 1977, CHILD is a therapeutic day program based on Mercer Island that serves 50 students of all ages. Some have endured trauma, and others have neurological or communication disorders, autism or other learning disabilities. Some families have relocated to the Seattle area from across the country so their children could attend the institute, but about 75 percent come from school districts stretched across the Puget Sound region. The holiday feast gives them a chance to spend time together.

``For many kids, and families, this is the first place they feel accepted,'' Rosas said.

At last Friday's feast, about 100 people loaded plates of food in the main hall, which was decorated with student-made flags from different countries. Along with exotic dishes like bobotie, they had holiday favorites like pie and turkey.

After lunch, guests listened to performances by the CHILD choirs, including the Try-Tones, a group of younger students, and a new group for older students called Remix. Instructor Tony Long-Drew helped start Remix when he joined the staff two years ago, drawing on a musical background in church choirs and university studies.

Victoria Chirieleison, an art instructor at CHILD who lives in Sammamish, said the feast helps build the community at CHILD. She has a 14-year-old son at the institute.

``It's wonderful to build a sense of community when families are spread out in different geographic locations,'' she said.

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