An Austin mother looking to make her daughter's Christmas special started an event for children who can't necessarily attend regular parties. She continued that tradition this year -- even in the face of incredible loss.
Casey's Circle is an Austin nonprofit that works to help improve the quality of life for special needs children and their families. Sunday, the fifth ever Special Needs Holiday Party took place in the Armstrong Auditorium at the Dell Children's Medical Center. Any and all kids with special needs were invited to this party, as well as their family members.
This party included volunteers who have worked with children who have special needs. PSA Healthcare provided volunteers as well as crafts for different levels of cognitive ability. There were also gifts for the children who came, as every item from Sunday's party was donated to Casey's Circle.
Suzette Fields first brought her daughter Chloe to the party three years ago. Chloe isn't always able to go to parties because she has mitochondrial disorders.
"She is in a wheelchair, she's nonverbal," Fields said. "She doesn't eat by the mouth. We can't go to typical kid parties."
Casey's Christmas Party has become a family tradition for the Fields.
"We know that Chloe's going to be included," Fields said. She's going to be taken care of. She's not going to get bumped into or run over. It's special for us parents too."
Marty Barnes is the director of Casey's Circle, as she created the nonprofit for her daughter Casey.
"There just wasn't any special needs parties for Christmas and she loved a good party," Barnes said. "
Casey couldn't speak or move but Barnes said that didn't slow her down.
"If it sparkled or was pink or purple, she loved it," Casey said. "She was all girl and all sass."
Earlier this spring, Barnes started planning Casey's party just like she had the past four years. In march, though, a heartbreaking loss happened -- Casey passed away just before her 10th birthday.
"At first, we were torn," Barnes said. "Do we keep doing this or not?"
Barnes said the answer came to her at Casey's service, when friends spoke about what the Christmas party means to them.
"I realized that we started the parties for Casey, it was all for Casey," Barnes said. "Casey wasn't the only one that benefited. All these kids are benefiting, and I was benefiting. I get way more out of this than I put into it."
The party continues in 2016 in honor of Casey and for the other children like Chloe.
"Whenever we hit this party, that's what starts Christmas for us because it's so special," Fields said.
The party initially had only about 20 kids during the first year. This year, it has grown to more than 150 children in attendance. To learn more about Casey's Circle, you can visit caseyscircle.org.