WILKES-BARRE — As Takira Atherton patiently waited in line to see Santa Claus, you could tell she was anxious, but well-prepared.
Atherton, a fourth-grade special needs student in the life skills program at Greater Nanticoke, was one of many students brought to Boscov’s Tuesday for a visit with the jolly old elf himself and to do some shopping.
It’s all part of a program started some 37 years ago by the late Albert Boscov who wanted to help special-needs children and adults do their Christmas shopping and visit with Santa.
“If Albert was here, he would be right in the middle of all of this,” said Irene Kelly, Boscov’s regional public relations manager. “This was Albert’s idea. It’s just an Albert thing. It was important for him to help children with special needs and people in wheelchairs. This is part of Albert’s desire to always want to give back to the community.”
Kelly said Boscov’s provided gifts for the special-needs students, along with snacks. She said at the end of their shopping experience — they were given 15 percent discounts — all participants were treated to lunch.
For students like Christina Colon and her friend, Savannah Mayewski, fourth-graders from the life skills program at Wyoming Valley West’s Chester Street School, seeing Santa was an opportunity to let him know what was on their wish lists.
“I asked him for Legos, Aqua Beads and a Lalaloopsy doll,” Atherton said.
“I asked Santa for a Barbie doll and a Barbie house,” Mayewski added.
Like all of the students participating, Atherton and Mayewski got a hug and picture with Santa and smiles were everywhere.
“The students love this,” said Pat Carter, a speech therapist in the WVW program. “They really look forward to coming to Boscov’s, seeing Santa and shopping for their families and themselves.”
Hunter Jones, a senior at Coughlin and a class officer, served as a volunteer elf, handing out gifts to the children as they visited with St. Nick.
“This is just incredible,” Jones said. “Just to be part of this program and to watch the students experience visiting with Santa Claus is amazing.”
Many of the students were brought to Boscov’s through the Luzerne Intermediate Unit 18. Aaron McGuire is 18 and is autistic. He asked Santa for some art supplies.
“Aaron is a good artist,” said Shannon Sebolka, a para-educator with the LIU.
McGuire proceeded to show off some of his art by using his cell phone to call up some pictures he has drawn.
“Do you know who that is?” he asked, showing a picture he drew of TV star Ellen DeGeneres.
Richard Breton, 16, of Hanover Area, said he has wanted a Nintendo switch that recently came out, so he asked Santa to drop one off at his house.
“I’m also into boxing,” Breton said. “I can do that without hurting my legs.”
Chasity Perez, 19, was eager to show everybody a beautiful necklace she purchased for her mother for Christmas.
Lori Dennis, a teacher in the program, said the experience is one the students enjoy and learn from at the same time.
“They certainly have fun,” she said. “And they learn how to spend their money, how to shop and how to interact with the public.”
Elizabeth Tigue, who works with the students in the autistic and emotional support program, said the students couldn’t wait to get to Boscov’s.
“They love to shop for their family members and themselves,” Tigue said. “And the Boscov’s staff enjoys helping the students pick out their gifts. But the real attraction is seeing Santa.”
Kelly said several groups of senior citizens were arriving to participate in the shopping program. She said the program is a hit with all ages and all Boscov’s employees look forward to making the visit fun for everyone.
“Albert would be very proud today,” Kelly said.