Looking at Holy Childhood from the outside, you’d see what appears to be a typical single-story school located in a residential area surrounded by mid-century homes making up an ordinary suburban neighborhood. But one step inside Holy Childhood’s front doors and you’d quickly realize that it’s so much more than an ordinary school. It’s a gift to the community in more ways than one.
Holy Childhood is a non-denominational, non-profit agency that has enriched the lives of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Rochester, NY for nearly 70 years. Its mission is “to prepare children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities for maximum independence and integration in the community through individualized programs and services, in keeping with the philosophy and vision of our founders.”
The month spanning late November to late December is perhaps the best time of year for Holy Childhood. From the children to the young adults, all the way up to the grown-ups, the holiday spirit infects them all.
“The holiday mood at Holy Childhood is purely magical – there’s no other way to describe it,” says Laurie Otto, public relations manager. “We have many holiday-related activities for the students and adults, including a performance of the Nutcracker by the Rochester City Ballet, a ‘Wear your Christmas colors’ day, a performance by the Rush Henrietta Chorus, an ‘Ugly Sweater Contest’ for the staff, a Sing-A-long, and the biggest celebration day of the year is our annual Firemen’s Christmas Party, now in its 52nd year.”
The Firemen’s Christmas party includes a parade by hundreds of area firefighters, accompanied by Santa and Mrs. Clause. Following the parade, the firefighters hand out gifts to each and every student and adult, serve them lunch, and play a floor hockey game with the adults. For employees like Laurie, it’s hard not to get emotional.
“I cry every year! It’s so incredibly touching,” she says.
Holy Childhood is known for many things in Rochester, most notably for its amazing work with those with intellectual and developmental disabilities. However, it’s also known for producing some of the best pies in town and woodwork that’s equally as impressive.
Housed inside Holy Childhood’s walls is Special Touch Bakery, which sells approximately 2,000 pies during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday season each year. It produces more than 14,000 pies annually. Those attending Holy Childhood’s adult program make the bakery “go.” They learn and perfect skills in everything from kneading the crust dough to preparing the fillings. Smells of pumpkin, chocolate, and lemon fill the hallways.
This year, 600 pies went out the door on the day before Thanksgiving alone. When customers arrived at the school on “Pie Pickup Day,” the Holy Childhood bakers greeted each one, assisted with orders, and helped load up cars.
“Their sense of pride and the smiles on their faces is unmistakably evident,” Laurie says. “And they absolutely love to talk about their jobs in the bakery.”
In addition to the bakery, those in the adult program can also be a part of the Woodworking Program where they handcraft beautiful items such as cutting boards, birdhouses, wine and media racks, book shelves, doll furniture, and much more. Each year, Holy Childhood holds the Annual Woodworking Sale at Eastview Mall (this year it ran December 10-13).
“They are most happy to talk about the items they produce, in specific detail, and again they are so proud of their work,” Laurie says of the woodworking team.
Whether its pies or birdhouses, the true gift from any handmade item from Holy Childhood is the smile that comes alongside it. That ear-to-ear grin that indicates such a sense of pride and accomplishment is worth 100 times more than any amount of money spent.
To learn more about Holy Childhood, visit www.holychildhood.org.