The HAWK Foundation Takes Flight
Writer / Janelle Morrison
For families with children with special needs birthday parties, play dates or running errands can sometimes be challenging and require special planning in advance. The Helping All With Kindness (HAWK) Foundation was recently created by a group of Zionsville residents who came together and created some rather remarkable events for people with special needs and their families. Their mission statements spell out their purpose. “The HAWK Foundation is not focused on our little friend Hawk. Rather, the miracle we were able to create for him was an inspiration to do it again for other families with members who have Special Needs. We hope to insure that the Spirit of Giving happens all year long to those in need.”
One of the founding board members, Paul Dreier, explained the origin of the HAWK Foundation and why there was a need to create it in his hometown of Zionsville, Indiana.
“It all started when Leigh Ann Akard, came to me and asked, ‘Hey Paul, you are into volunteering for Special Olympics and other events for Children with Special Needs, aren’t you?’” Dreier said. “She had an idea and that transformed into a plan. The plan was to invite some of the Lions members who had children with special needs to bring their families and friends to the park and enjoy the rides, games and dinner for free. That first event brought in seven families (about 35 people). We fed them, got the Carnival ride owners to allow them to ride the rides for free, and some of us put up money so the children could play the carnival games for free. Then came Christmas. We took the same plan, added Santa, a photographer to make family Christmas photos and more people.”
The result of this pilot event came the creation of the annual VIP Carnival and VIP Christmas events. Each year these events have attracted impressive numbers of attendees from all over Indiana. “Each year we have grown more and more,” Dreier said. “This year’s VIP Carnival hosted 1,200 people. Last year’s VIP Christmas hosted 450. All these people are family members and their very special people.”
During the 2013 VIP Christmas event, Santa, Jeff Collins and HAWK board member, was asked by a 12 year-old boy for a very special wish that he then presented to the VIP organizers.
Many local residents will recall that this little boy, Hawk, became the center of media focus when the organizers of the VIP events and selfless residents came to his doorstep with a special Christmas miracle. The results made national news and shined a bright light onto Zionsville. Shortly after the HAWK Foundation, a 501(c)(3) was created and it continues to strive and insure that the VIP events occur annually and are free to the individuals and their families. They will continue to plan for their “next miracle” and help other families with a member who has special needs who need to feel the warmth, love and hope offered through a Christmas miracle.
This year the HAWK Foundation will host the Sixth Annual VIPs Christmas Celebration for Special Needs Families. It is a unique event designed to bring together the entire family for an evening of family, friends and fun. The goal is to eliminate all obstacles that would prevent a family with a special needs child from visiting Santa. This event was the idea of Zionsville residents, Leigh Ann Akard and Amy Lacy. One of the major attractions at the event is the sleigh ride through the woods. The sleigh ride takes the VIP’s through the woods behind the Hussey-Mayfield Library. Through sponsorship dollars, attendees are treated to a free photo with Santa, free professional family photos – courtesy of Janice VanGorder Photography – and gifts and prizes from Santa.
Zionsville resident and board member Jane Winters spoke from her family’s personal experience, having a daughter with special needs and how these events positively affect the whole family, including siblings.
“We want to provide free seasonal events that include individuals with special needs and their families,” Winters said. “These events are made to say to the individuals and their families, ‘we want you there and that you are all invited.’ There’s not a lot of opportunity for individuals with special needs to interact with their peers and friends that they feel comfortable with. These opportunities are created to bring them together so that they can build these friendships and bonds just like any of us do.
“There are usually siblings involved and the attention is usually placed on the child with special needs and the sibling(s) who are not special needs and will feel that shift of attention at some point throughout their upbringing. Our goal is to incorporate them into these events as a chance for the entire family to feel included and to enjoy themselves,” she said.
The foundation is currently developing future fundraisers to raise funds and participation from area businesses and volunteers who may be interested in supporting these incredible events.
“Kite Day will operate as a fundraiser for the foundation,” Winters said. “We don’t collect funds for VIP Christmas, the VIP Fall Festival Carnival or any of our events so we will need the generosity of our community members as we continue forward.”
Dreier echoed his fellow board member’s sentiments and gratefully acknowledged the generosity of the Chick-fil-A Corporation for their continuous meal donations to approximately 1,200 people at the VIP Carnival. “Chick-fil-A has just been unbelievable with their support to our event,” he said. “We are grateful to all of our sponsors and selfless volunteers for their continued support. We invite anyone who is interested in learning more about our foundation or may need information on what services and assistance are available to their family members, to come to our VIP Christmas event.”
For questions or more information, please call 317-873-5255 or visit the HAWK Foundation’s website thehawkfoundation.org/index.html.