Halloween Event for the Special Needs Community 

Written by Meryl Zhang, FCSN Voices Editor

On October 29th, the long-awaited FCSN Halloween event returned to Ardenwood Historic Farm for a second year of fun-filled festivities. Visitors, FCSN students and their families, were welcomed to participate in a variety of events, including a haunted railroad ride, pumpkin decorating, and trick-or-treating. 

This Halloween event was a result of a collaboration between three organizations: FCSN, East Bay Regional Parks, and SPCRR, the railroad company. Before COVID, Ardenwood Historic Farm and SPCRR had already been organizing annual Halloween events featuring the haunted railroad, but during the pandemic, the event was canceled. Recently, rather than restarting the same event, the two organizations hoped to offer an event that special needs individuals could enjoy. Sonja Gomez, an East Bay Regional Parks representative, had previously helped organize another similar Halloween event for special needs individuals in San Francisco. “I just always loved that event so much so in some ways I wanted to recreate that here.” With this inspiration, Gomez reached out to FCSN, and the Ardenwood Halloween event was created. The first year, roughly 100 participants signed up, and the number doubled this year. “[The event]’s been successful. So it’s really a great thing that we have this collaboration with Ardenwood and [we’re] so grateful for them to provide this opportunity,” says FCSN Program Director Kelly Ko. 

With the gradual lifting of COVID restrictions, the event was able to accommodate more visitors and add more attractions, such as trick-or-treating on the porch of the Patterson house. There, children received candy from the director of the house and were welcomed to choose and decorate a pumpkin with markers and stickers. Visitors could also enjoy free food such as Halloween-themed treats from the café, listen to live music performed by the Dream Achievers band, and go on a tour of a “witch’s house” set up in a barn. 

The Dream Achievers Band, composed of special needs musicians Lawrence, Alice, and Gregory, set up a venue next to the café and witch’s house. With classic Halloween hits, such as “Thriller” by Michael Jackson, as well as upbeat pop songs, visitors were immersed into the Halloween spirit with the live performance, and many also danced along next to the venue.

The Dream Achievers Band perform Halloween hits for visitors.

The main highlight of the event was the haunted train ride, which took visitors for a railroad trip full of spooky Halloween surprises. At one stop, the train encountered a ghost bride, who boarded the train to search for her groom among the passengers. Another stop featured a witch organizing a dinner party, which passengers were invited to (they had to politely decline). Visitors even ran into a “train robbery” and several other ghosts. 

Another major feature that has been present since the first year was the blacksmith’s shop, run by Robert Jensen. Jensen, who has been the official blacksmith on Ardenwood Historic Farm for years, eagerly shared his newest creations with visitors. Working on a farm, Jensen’s main experience is in making farm implements such as branding irons and metal handles, but he also enjoys creating small decorative pieces such as snail sculptures. During the event, Jensen brought out a few of these completed pieces, including a dinner bell, in addition to works in progress to demonstrate for participants the smithing process. 

Overall, this year’s Halloween event was a resounding success, and the organizations all hope to continue this collaboration year after year. Gomez confirms, “We already have funding from Regional Park Foundation secured for 2023, so [the event] will definitely happen next year, and then hopefully many years to come.”

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