2008-12-17 / Features

Community Mayors Host Operation Santa

BY DAN MILLER

Photos Dan Miller/DMD Images Mrs. Santa joins the staff and students from P.S. 255 (Woodside) at Operation Santa at JFK Airport. Seen here with Mrs. Santa are P.S. 255 students and staff Evelyn Negron, Shahnaz Vegum, Gloria Castro, Lynn Lustig, Lillian Arzin, Cathy Rivela and Mary Elizabeth. Photos Dan Miller/DMD Images Mrs. Santa joins the staff and students from P.S. 255 (Woodside) at Operation Santa at JFK Airport. Seen here with Mrs. Santa are P.S. 255 students and staff Evelyn Negron, Shahnaz Vegum, Gloria Castro, Lynn Lustig, Lillian Arzin, Cathy Rivela and Mary Elizabeth. On Wednesday December 10, special education students from P.S. 255 in Woodside, P.S. 256 from the Rockaways, P.S. 24, Flushing, P.S .186 from Bellerose, and P.S. 811 from Little Neck and thousands of students with developmental challenges from District 75 programs throughout New York City descended on John F. Kennedy International Airport with their teachers, paraprofessionals, physical, occupational and speech therapists and parent volunteers to participate in Operation Santa, an annual holiday extravaganza hosted by the Community Mayors of New York, a fete they have been proud of for more than 50 years.

High school marching bands from James Madison H.S., Brooklyn, and Tottenville H.S., Staten Island, led by Queens' Frances Lewis H.S., Fresh Meadows, helped fill an airplane hanger at JFK with music and added to the excitement of the holiday party. Macy's donated 5,000 toys for the kids and Delta Airlines donated a jet to bring Santa to greet the kids at the party's end. Hundreds of volunteers from the city's uniformed services were joined by volunteers from the FBI, Secret Service, Port Authority and many other governmental agencies, unions and organizations.

P.S. 255 (Woodside) students with their teacher, Diane Rankissoon, and Ronald McDonald at Operation Santa at JFK airport, Wednesday December 10. P.S. 255 (Woodside) students with their teacher, Diane Rankissoon, and Ronald McDonald at Operation Santa at JFK airport, Wednesday December 10. Schleppers Movers donated their trucks to bring the toys to JFK for the party. Ronald McDonald was joined by dozens of adaptive education teachers dressed as clowns to help bring smiles to the thousands of special kids attending this year's celebration and City Councilmembers Tony Avella (Bayside), recognized for having secured three $50,000 grants for the Community Mayors Children's Fund from the New York City Council, and David Yassky (Brooklyn) were on hand to see the smiles on the children's faces when they were treated to a luncheon, balloons, music, traveling clowns, costumed cartoon characters and stuffed teddy bears.

Students from P.S. 177 Queens and their paraprofessionals, Lorraine Lane and Sharon Johns, are joined by Ronald McDonald at the Operation Santa Holiday Party at JFK on Wednesday December 10. Students from P.S. 177 Queens and their paraprofessionals, Lorraine Lane and Sharon Johns, are joined by Ronald McDonald at the Operation Santa Holiday Party at JFK on Wednesday December 10. After Santa arrived he was joined by Chief Community Mayor, Shelly Della Rocca, whose father, Dominick Della Rocca, began the Operation Santa Claus holiday party for kids with special needs more than 50 years ago. Mrs. Santa joined Santa and Shelly on the train along with one of Santa's elves, Avella, and Ronald McDonald.

Evelyn Negron, a teacher from P.S. 25 (Woodside), and Richard Marowitz, principal, brought a group of five-year-old autistic children to Operation Santa. Negron has been working with autistic children for more than 20 years and agreed that this event helps lift the spirit of her children who carry a heavy burden in life. Staff members Clarinda Castro, Chahnaz Vegun, Lynn Lustig, Lillian Arzin, Cathy Rivela and Mary Elizabeth in the supervision of her group joined her.

P.S. 811 (Little Neck) students and staff members Eileen Comens, speech therapist, teachers Rachele Marmone and Jennifer Schwartz and para professionals Bernadette Gorey and Alex Baiardi pose with Ronald McDonald at the Operation Santa Holiday Party at JFK Airport on Wednesday December 10. P.S. 811 (Little Neck) students and staff members Eileen Comens, speech therapist, teachers Rachele Marmone and Jennifer Schwartz and para professionals Bernadette Gorey and Alex Baiardi pose with Ronald McDonald at the Operation Santa Holiday Party at JFK Airport on Wednesday December 10. Jeannine Gomez from P.S. 256 District 75 (Belle Harbor), said "It means a lot to them. It puts a smile on their face to know that people care, to get gifts and to see Santa to come in on a plane. It is a very big deal for them. Many have never even seen a plane before."

Brigid Lynch, a special education teacher from P.S. 24 at P.S. 186 District 75 (Bellerose), joined by her two paras, Lizette Rivera and Marzella Chavez, added, "It is a very special day. It is a very personal day for them. I think the city does a special job to make it memorable for them."

The Community Mayors of New York are dedicated to making every one of their annual outings memorable for the special kids they serve. Their motto, "No Man Is So Tall As When He Stoops To Help a Handicapped Child," is also their mission statement.

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