Special Citizens Day at the National Peanut Festival

A young girl enjoys a ride on the merry-go-round during Special Citizens Day at the National Peanut Festival on Wednesday morning.

Partly cloudy skies, mild temperatures, and a gentle breeze greeted an early crowd at the National Peanut Festival as the event commemorated its annual Special Citizens Day.

Gates opened at 8 a.m., hours before they normally would during a weekday, as a chance for National Peanut Festival officials to give back to the community, said Beverly Lampkin, NPF board president. National Peanut Festival officials maintain a list of area schools and programs that serve special-needs residents and invite them to enjoy a few hours of the fair during the daytime hours.

“We have criteria based on several special education coordinators giving us some (recommendations) of those who might be of the most need,” she said. “We have a waiver that they sign, and we turn on just a few rides that they’re able to successfully ride. We tell the parents of the child and the school to get the kids used to the sounds.”

Nice day to visit

Weather plays a vital role in completing the festival experience, as Henry County Schools special education coordinator Lakeisha Newsome recalled inclement weather cancelled the rides last year. Still NPF officials arrange for other attractions to be open and available in order to provide an enjoyable experience.

“When they come up for the entertainment, that’s my favorite time,” Lampkin said. “Matts Family Jam is going to play today, and it’s real interactive. They’re on the arena floor, and they dance and have a good time.

“This is probably one of my favorite days because of the acceptance. They love everything.”

Fairground acts like clowns, magicians and others also perform at various points on the grounds in order to keep crowds entertained, Lampkin said. While that is a requirement per the acts’ contract with the NPF, she noted the entertainers happily comply.

“Our fairground acts have always been so cooperative, and they want to give,” Lampkin said.

The Dothan Civitan Club provides food like corn dogs and ice cream for the attendees, though some other vendors open up, as well. Coca-Cola donates sodas to complete the experience, Lampkin said.

For school officials, Special Citizens Day requires plenty of effort to organize — ensuring all students have proper permission slips, waivers signed, entry stickers and armbands obtained, Newsome said. The efforts pay off as soon as Special Citizens Day arrives.

“One parent said that his son was up this morning trying to get on the bus at 6 o’clock. He was ready for the trip,” Newsome said. “It’s well worth it. The kids are so excited.”

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