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This is the 11th year for the party

GAZETTE PHOTOS:  BARBARA SHERMAN - A student enjoys tossing the ball, which kept several people busy picking up ones that students missed, while a huge attraction that drew a lot of kids was Richard Ritchey, during an annual themed party for special-needs students sponsored by Sherwood School District bus drivers. The Sherwood School District bus drivers plus those working at the transportation office host an annual themed party for the special-needs students they transport plus their families, and this year’s party, which had a zoo theme, was held May 6 at the bus barn on Cipole Road in Tualatin.

“A lot of these kids aren't able to participate in school activities or other events, and they look forward to this party all year,” said Michelé Barner, the mom of three of those special-needs kids. “They are often forgotten in the community, but this is an event where they are center stage. They are the special guests.”

This year was the 11th event, according to Sue Caldwell, who has driven special-education students and sports participants for the Sherwood School District for 17-plus years. A total of 55 special-needs students plus some siblings and parents participated in the event.

“I bought 200 hot dogs, and they’re all gone, so I know we have at least 200 people here,” Caldwell said.

Activities included a tossing game, a sucker pull, crafts and a bean bag toss. But the most popular part of the event – besides the food – was an appearance by the Oregon Reptile Man, aka Richard Ritchey of Colton, who brought along some amazing critters. “I have fun with kids,” he said.

The bus drivers and transportation employees earn money for the prizes and goody bags given to each student by hosting a raffle and asking for donations from people in and around the community. This year the goody bags included hats and wands.

And everything was all donated for the event: The city of Sherwood provided a huge tent; Union Pacific Employee Club No. 9 donated the hot dogs, chips and drinks; Reser’s Fine Foods donated salad; Lakeshore Learning donated craft supplies; and Sherwood Elks Lodge No. 2342 paid for the Oregon Reptile Man’s appearance.

GAZETTE PHOTO: BARBARA SHERMAN - The Oregon Reptile Man, who brought along a lot of critters for students to hold and pet, was one of the featured attraction at this year's party for special-needs students.“I sold raffle tickets and asked for donations from anybody who wanted to help kids,” Caldwell said. “We had lots of drivers donating raffle items. It’s all about the kids learning and doing something different. We had a lot of help setting up for this, and we appreciate it.”

Barner added, “There is a lot of hard work and off-hours time that the transportation department spends to create this fun party. Every year it warms my heart to see how much they care for these special kids. I'm sure that many people in the community don't know that this event takes place, but I know… I'm so grateful that there is this one event that is just for these special needs kids.”

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