Santa Pays Special Visit to Students at Leonard Kirtz School

AUSTINTOWN, Ohio – Santa Claus took some time during his busiest season Tuesday to greet some special students at the Leonard Kirtz School.

Not everyone was ready to make eye contact with the merry old elf or verbally able to tell Santa their wish this Christmas, but their smiles spoke for them.

“You need to see the faces as I see them,” said Santa, who also sometimes serves as Mahoning County Board of Developmental Disabilities Board President Joe Pecchia.

At that moment, Santa blew a kiss to a young girl sitting nearby, who gleefully returned the gesture.

“That’s what I love … and that’s why I do it,” Santa said. “We are all here to be a blessing and to serve. There’s no other reason to exist.”

Perhaps a visit with the students at the Leonard Kirtz School will help keep Santa’s heart warm during his Christmas Eve journey this week as temperatures are predicted to drop into the single digits.

Santa’s arrival sparked a few spontaneous hugs, high fives and handshakes. He then took the time to sit with and greet each child, pose for photos and give each one a present.

“Some kids are very excited for it, and just like when you go to the mall, other kids are like, ‘I’m not so sure about this,’” said Superintendent Bill Whitacre. “It is so neat to gauge the reactions of the kids.”

Santa had a few helpers with the presents and the party itself. Whitacre credited the school’s staff with organizing the festivities.

Staff members and others affiliated with the MCBDD made sure each and every name on the giving tree received a special present from Santa, something they can take home with them for the holiday break.

“I appreciate the staff because I’m sure these days are probably a little more hectic than a normal school day,” Whitacre said. “The staff did an incredible job working with the kids. I really appreciate all the effort they put in.”

Additionally, Whitacre pointed out many are struggling this holiday season, but local generosity here in the Mahoning Valley is helping to take care of them.

“Another great thing that has come of this, you know, unfortunately we have some families that may need some help over the holidays with food and those type of things,” Whitacre said. “We’ve gotten donations of food from some local churches, so the greater community at large gets involved in this day as well, and we can’t thank them enough for the things that they do for us.”

Perhaps there is some Santa in everyone involved in that special Santa’s visit at the Leonard Kirtz school, making sure this Christmas is bright for the students there and their families.

Seeing the students so happy from a visit with Santa makes the day-to-day challenges of operating the school worthwhile, Whitacre said.

“We really appreciate that he comes and does this for us every year,” Whitacre said. “You see the smile on his face. I think Santa enjoys it as much as the kids do.”

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