More than 1,250 children and their families gathered at the MIND Institute on Saturday for the 15th annual thank-you party, a celebration of their participation in studies or programs that advance research in neurodevelopmental disorders.
For the event volunteers transformed the MIND Institute’s first floor into a storybook world for this year’s “Once Upon a Time” theme. Attendees entered the “castle” through a drawbridge, complete with fire-breathing dragon, stained glass windows and giant bricks, were greeted by famous Disney princesses and ushered through to the main performance stage and carnival booths.
Representatives from 12 labs/research studies participated in 10 booths, each with their own theme based on well-known children’s books. The AIR (Attention, Impulsivity and Regulation) program lab hosted a Harry Potter-themed booth where participants transformed themselves into wizards. The Where the Wild Things Are booth by the APP (Autism Phenome Project) lab and GAIN (Girls with Autism Imaging of Neurodevelopment) Study lab recreated the magical world of author Maurice Sendak with volunteers dressed as characters from the book. Additional themes included One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, The Polar Express, a crown-making station, face painting, family photo booth and more.
On stage throughout the afternoon, performers dazzled guests. They included Erin Spradley, who sang “Believe,” the MIND Institute’s Patrick Adams, Garrett Gower and Raphael Geddert who performed “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” songs; and Drew Winter, who sang “Lost Boy.” The crowd also was treated to juggling and an exotic animal show.
Erin Roseborough, a child life specialist and MIND volunteer coordinator, said planning started in January and engaged more than 150 people including faculty, staff and volunteers. Roseborough said the party offers a creative team-building opportunity for everyone involved.
For attendees, the thank-you party offers more than complimentary food and fun. The event provides a sense of belonging to people who may otherwise have difficulty in public, around crowds or in loud settings. Planners’ attention to detail allows families to enjoy a carefree experience together — some call the event their “Disneyland.” In addition to sensory stations and activities, everyone has access to quiet rooms, and volunteer behaviorists are on site to help parents as needed.
Families travel far and wide to attend. This year’s party drew families from Los Angeles, the Bay Area, Hawaii, West Virginia and Florida.
Onor Cheung of Hayward said she was grateful that her family is included every year. Her 10-year-old son, Zachary “Herbie” Cheung, has participated in the APP for seven years.
“I really appreciate being invited every year,” she said. “My son really likes it here. He looks forward to coming.”
Betsey and Michael Monnet brought their sons, William, 12; Robert, 10; and Thomas, 7, who has participated in the Infant Sibling Study most of his life. The family considers the party a kick off to the holiday season and truly enjoys participating in research.
“We like to help. It’s easy to help,” said Betsey Monnet.
Autism Spectrum Therapies, PRIDE Industries, Primavera Marketing, Inc. and SMUD helped support the event. More than $20,000 worth of in-kind donations were provided by local businesses to create gift baskets as well as lunch, refreshments and snacks.