Awards & Events

All-Inclusive Egg Hunt Benefits Kids with Special Needs

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Thanks to a partnership with Miss Dana’s Diamonds and Rulli Bros. Market, children with special needs can search for Easter eggs in a safe, inclusive environment with siblings and friends.

The second annual All Inclusive Egg Hunt is scheduled for Sunday, April 7 at 2 p.m. at Rulli Bros. Market at 8025 South Ave., Boardman. While the grocery store is usually closed on Sundays, its aisles will be filled with children with special needs searching for Easter eggs hidden on the shelves.

The event is open to kids with special needs and typical kids to promote inclusion, said organizer Dana Winters, who owns Miss Dana’s Diamonds in Boardman. An outdoor hunt will be hosted as well, she said, but the indoor hunt is designed especially for kids with disabilities so they can participate.

“If you just drop an egg in the grass, kids can’t always get to that,” Winters says. “Someone with autism or sensory processing disorders might go slower and need more time, or might need coaching to get the eggs. Having a nice secure area inside and separating the kids into age groups helps.”

Inside, each aisle will be a different age group, and one will be specifically for children with nut allergies, she said. Half of the plastic eggs will include noncandy items, such as tactile items like fidgets. An exchange table will allow children with allergies to swap candy for something they’re allowed to have.

The outdoor hunt begins at 3:25 p.m. and will be divided into groups as well, she said. Siblings will have an opportunity to participate in both hunts, as will adults with special needs.

Winters expects a big turnout for the event, she said. Last year, the hunt drew 350 kids, 50 of whom had special needs, she said. There were so many, they had to close registration a week early, she said.

“We thought we were going to get 50, maybe 100 kids,” Winters said. “People still came the day of.”

The event drew kids from the tri-county region as well as from parts of western Pennsylvania, she said. In the fall, a Trunk or Treat event at Rulli Bros. drew as many as 800 kids and raised $6,500.

In addition to candy, larger prizes are available for children aged two and younger who have special needs. Those prizes are donated by organizations who serve the special needs population, and include a soft, weighted turtle, a plush, breathing golden retriever from Perfect Petzzz that helps calm children with autism, rockers, a weighted vest and sensory necklaces that children can chew.

A $5 donation at registration includes entry into a drawing for a birthday party rental package for the age group, with winners being drawn and announced that day. Donate party packages include All the Little Birds for children two and under, Confetti House for ages three to four, Deep in the Forest for ages 5 to 6, Extreme Air Trampoline Park for ages seven to eight, and Deep Freeze Ice Arena for ages nine and up.

Residents can CLICK HERE to register online or register in person at Rulli Bros. Boardman or Extreme Air.

Proceeds from the egg hunt will benefit The Walnut Grove in Canfield. Winters sits on the nonprofit’s fundraising committee and wanted the egg hunt to raise awareness of its mission of inclusion, she said.

“Dana has done a really great job on this event for the last couple years,” said Corey Patrick, spokesman for The Walnut Grove. “We’re very excited to have this event in the area because there are so many families that can benefit from it.”

As a playground, The Walnut Grove is “pretty seasonal,” so having an egg hunt indoors for children with special needs gives them an opportunity to be included with other kids, he said. “It’s something that most people don’t think about all the time, so having an event like this can really promote awareness.”

Winters became an advocate for inclusion when she started training in gymnastics in the eighth grade. She had been volunteering at the school where she trained and was asked to teach a girl who was blind how to tumble, she said. During her time there, she had also taught a girl with autism and another with Down syndrome, she said.

“I just started learning more and more about these kids the more I worked there,” she said.

In 2010, she opened Miss Dana’s Diamonds in studio space in Boardman and started a cheer group. During a class, Winters saw two little girls looking in the window. The girls had autism, she said, and when she met them they asked their mother if they could join the school.

“There isn’t any reason why they couldn’t do it,” Winters said.

In her second year in business, Winters formed the Rock Stars, a special needs cheer team. Since it began, she has taught girls with autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and rickets.

“It melts my heart to be able to provide that opportunity for them,” she said.

Along with the egg hunt, the event will include bounce houses, food trucks, horses kids can pet, a cheer demonstration and a taekwondo demonstration by the Jr Tae Kwon Do School in Boardman. An egg smash and egg dash will feature local celebrities, including Jim Loboy, co-host of WYTV-33 Daybreak; Ohio Sen. Michael Rulli, R-33; Mahoning County Probate Court Judge Robert Rusu; Lauren Lindvig, managing partner of Bliss 360 Marketing in Warren; among others.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.