FEATURE | Posted Dec. 11, 2014

MIND Institute says "Thank You" to hundreds of study participants

Fun for the whole family

Hundreds of families on Dec. 6 streamed into the UC Davis MIND Institute for the 12th Annual Thank You Party, an event cherished by families of children with disabilities that acknowledges their role in making the institute’s groundbreaking neurodevelopmental research possible. The camping-and-hiking-themed event had something for everyone, from costumed superheroes such as Captain America, Wonder Woman and Spiderman, to animated favorites from popular family films such as “Frozen” and “Winnie the Pooh.”

The fantasy characters were joined by real-live animals, including an alligator, python, and an Australian animal called a kinkajou, all courtesy of Wild Things, Inc. The wildlife theme continued with entomologists — and their bugs — from UC Davis’ own Bohart Museum of Entomology, where kids could reach out and touch a real-live millipede or walking stick, among other creepy crawlies, in the bug petting zoo.

For many of the children, who have conditions such as autism, fragile X syndrome and Down syndrome, there are few places where they can be included in activities that families of children without such conditions may take for granted. There were towering bounce houses where kids could get their wiggles out, a miniature train ride to climb aboard, and a climbing wall for the truly adventurous.

This year, more than 150 volunteers worked tirelessly for months to make it come together, all shepherded by Erin Roseborough, the MIND Institute’s Child Life Specialist and Volunteer Coordinator. Each year, the army of volunteers turns the institute into outer space, or a woodland playground, or a winter wonderland, depending on the theme. Volunteers come from UC Davis undergraduate clubs and fraternities, the National Charity League, and Capitol Autism Services, among others.

About the UC Davis MIND Institute

MIND Institute © UC RegentsThe MIND Institute is one of the world’s leading centers for research into such conditions as autism, fragile X syndrome, 22q11.2 deletion syndrome and Down syndrome. Its basic-science and clinical research could not be accomplished without the involvement and commitment of individuals with, and without, those conditions and their families.

“We are so happy that we are able to serve our families and give them the opportunity to participate in an event where they can have fun and be entertained in a safe and accepting environment,” Roseborough said.

The annual labor of love relies heavily on donated goods and services. At the close of the event, the institute gave away thousands of dollars in gift baskets. Nearly 100 organizations made donations, from airplane trips on Southwest Airlines and Jet Blue, to performances at the American Conservatory Theater, UC Davis Mondavi Center and the Esquire IMAX Theater. Even the holiday trees that dotted the halls were donated, as was enough food and drink to feed nearly 1,000 guests. All told, an estimated $15,000 in donations makes the event – which has grown to become the second-largest held on the Sacramento campus of UC Davis — a reality.

“Since its inception in 2003, the Thank You Party has become a tradition at the MIND Institute,” said David Amaral, research director of the MIND Institute. “It reflects the unique partnership that the faculty, staff and trainees have with the community. It is the one time during the year that the kids just come to the MIND Institute to have fun.”