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Matthew Senstad, 12, visited with Santa Claus during a special Sensory Sensitive Santa event in Alexandria on Sunday, Dec. 15. The Windmill Project hosted the event and about 35 children attended with their families. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Quality time with a Sensitive Santa

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Santa Claus was sitting just around the corner and children were buzzing with excitement.

Some kids were clinging to Mom’s leg, but they peeked to see if he was really there.

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There he was! Santa was perched on a chair waiting to greet each of them.

The excitement was the same, but the setting was different.

This was a special Santa in a special setting for about 35 special children.

Windmill Project hosted its fourth annual Sensory Sensitive Santa event Sunday at Grand Arbor in Alexandria.

The function was set up as a low-stress environment for disabled and special needs children.

“This event is set up with a limited number of people in a quiet, isolated area so they can enjoy the experience without having to go through some of the trauma,” said Al Senstad of Alexandria.

“Standing in line for an hour at a crowded mall with a lot of screaming kids is just too stressful for them to handle,” he said.

Senstad and his wife, Karin, are the parents of Matthew, 12, who has Prader-Willi Syndrome. People with it have developmental delays, decreased physical strength, shorter stature, an insatiable appetite and some emotional issues.

Matthew was one of the children who visited Santa on Sunday.

The kids bopped around an activities room, played games, decorated cookies, laughed and shrieked with delight when it was their turn to see Santa.

Family by family, they spent quiet, quality time with Santa.

Then, after all the kids had their turn, they gathered up a few snacks and ventured to Grand Arbor’s theater for a screening of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

Senstad said, “You see children enjoying themselves because they’re not being shoved aside. They’re the focus of attention, not the one that gets pushed to the side when other children charge forward.

“The parents are able to come and be with parents who have the same issues they have; they’re able to focus on enjoying the time with their children,” he said.

Windmill Project board member Gail Kulp said, “You want to be someplace where you feel like, ‘Yeah, we belong here. This works. I’m glad we came. It was a lot of work getting here, but I’m glad we did it.’ ”

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Amy Chaffins
Amy Chaffins is a journalist working for the Echo Press newspaper. After graduating from St. Cloud State University, Amy’s first job was at KSAX-TV working as an anchor and reporter. From 2003-2010, Amy worked as an editor and reporter for the Pope County Tribune and Starbuck Times newspapers. During her journalism career, Amy earned writing and photography awards from the Associated Press, Minnesota Newspaper Association and Society of Professional Journalists. Amy and her husband, Brandon, live in Alexandria and together write “He Sez, She Sez,” a humor column in the local women’s magazine, Chicz
(320) 763-1242
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