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  • Shanley Chien


Christmas came early for approximately 400 children with special needs Monday at the 42nd annual “Touch, Smell and Hear” holiday event. The event, hosted by the Harris County Medical Society Alliance, was held at the John P. McGovern Museum of Health and Medical Science, where students from various Harris County elementary schools enjoyed holiday fun through their senses.

The alliance members filled the museum, which was closed off to the public for this event, with festive attractions — including a large inflatable snowman that greeted guests at the entrance, holiday music by the St. Ignatius Loyola Catholic Church Choir and two 12-foot Christmas trees donated by Thompson’s Landscaping of Magnolia and decorated with scented pine cones and textured ornaments — to encourage students to experience the holiday cheer using their touch, smell and hearing senses.

“We often take for granted the simple pleasures of the holidays, such as the smell of cinnamon and cloves, the sound of bells jingling, and the sight of beautiful trees decorated,” HCMS Alliance event co-chair Barbara Butler said. “It brings us so much joy to bring these children a holiday experience.”

Perhaps the most popular holiday attraction was Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus, who met with children next to the DeBakey Cell Lab. The children flocked toward jolly old Saint Nicholas and his wife to say what they wanted for Christmas and received teddy bears as gifts.

“This is really special because of the children. They don’t really get an opportunity to go on field trips, so the special [education students] from schools in the area are invited to come to this,” HCMS Alliance event co-chair Emily Morgan said. “It’s a free event and they come and see Santa, which is another thing they frequently are not able to do out in the regular malls and things.”

According to Morgan, the HCMS Alliance increased their outreach efforts this year to make sure students from Houston, Pearland, Katy, Lamar, Pasadena, Spring Branch and Stafford Independent School Districts had the opportunity to attend. Their hard work paid off, with this being the largest turnout they’ve seen compared to past events.

“We feel very happy that they gave [us] the invitation to be here […] because we love our children,” said Betzaida Dyer, a teacher at T.H. Rogers School. “Especially in this season, with the meaning of Christmas, I think it’s important for them to know what’s going on.

“She’s so excited to be here. She comes every single year, so she’s waiting for this moment to be here,” Dyer said on behalf of 7-year-old T.H. Rogers student Milagra Paz.

Students were able to explore select museum exhibits — such as the Amazing Body Pavilion — in addition to the assortment of holiday festivities. But the event was not only a special experience for the students and teachers. Butler and other coordinators took pleasure in spreading the holiday cheer and witnessing the joy on children’s faces.

“It’s just wonderful because I think we forget how lucky we are when our children have no problems. You see all these beautiful children and wonderful teachers, and it’s so wonderful to see them enjoy, get to see Santa Claus and their little eyes lit up,” Butler said. “They don’t always have that opportunity, so we’re so thankful that we as a group — the alliance — can give them that opportunity.”

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