Christmas in the Village VIP Style


Weekend events kick off with special celebration to honor special people

Samantha Riedlinger with family members from left to right: Dakota, mother Lora
Snider, & father Tom (photo provided by Janice VanGorder Photography)

Crowded malls, overwhelming lines, funny looks from strangers, all provide additional strain to burdens that already exist. But, an event this Friday for children and adults with special needs, “Very Important People”, takes the stress away. “At the VIP Christmas Celebration, they make it easy for us, make it a great time for our family. It’s hard to get out sometimes and do things and meet other people, but here we meet other kids with special needs and it helps the kids feel ‘normal’,” says Lora Snider, mother of Samantha Riedlinger(7) who struggles with a multitude of physical and emotional limitations due to Mitochondrial disease, cerebral palsy, and Agenesis of the corpus callosum.

For children like Samantha, this event provides a safe and relaxed atmosphere and is a much-needed break for families who endure additional challenges as caregivers. Since its inception in 2008, the VIP Christmas Celebration has been held at the Hussey-Mayfield Memorial Public Library and has hosted hundreds of children and adults with special needs, providing crafts, free professional family photos by Janice VanGorder Photography along with a photo with Santa, storytelling, games and more. This special night had a simple beginning with an idea back in 2008 by Leigh Ann Akard to create memories for children with special needs, similar to the Fall Festival VIP event. She told her children, “This year we’re not giving presents, we’re giving memories,” said Akard, founder and 2012 co-chair, “We’ll just invite our special needs friends and make cookies, have Santa come, and then we can all go outside and sing carols!”


2012 Co-Chairs, Amy Lacy and Leigh Ann Akard

Humble “Stone Soup” Beginnings

Leigh Ann’s idea took off from there and many in the communiry jumped in to help. 2012 Co-chair Amy Lacy likens it to the story of Stone Soup where one individual had an idea, one stone, and then the village came together, each adding their own unique ingredient to create a delicious soup. Ingredients for the first “VIP soup” began to pour in from the Hussey-Mayfield Memorial Public Library, Zionsville Lions Club, Montgomery Aviation, Zionsville Rail Trail Gardens, Nana’s Flowers, Country Pumpkins petting zoo, Chick-fil-A, Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital, and many local families. And, this year, BACA (Behavior Analysis Center for Autism) added milk and cookies to the pot with the soup now simmering and ready to be served up this Friday to over 300 VIP’s and their family members from all over Indiana. “It’s truly the reason for the season. Here, everybody celebrates the start of the holidays together,” says Akard. For many families, it’s the only chance for their child to get a picture with Santa and for parents to have a worry-free night in a spirited, fun atmosphere. “I feel blessed they include us in this special day to enjoy ourselves freely, without judgment,” says Snider.


VIP Larry Garrett proudly shows off his new ID photo with Santa.

Special Challenges for Families

She and husband,Tom Riedlinger, have experienced judgment first hand when venturing out in public with daughter, Samantha. Being wheelchair bound makes it especially difficult to get around, but her emotional challenges add extra pressure as Samantha can experience random moments of excitment and screaming, often drawing stares from on lookers. Co-chair, Amy Lacy, experienced similar ridicule growing up, “My sister had Tourette Syndrome and people would look at us funny. Here, there’s none of that. Parents don’t have to explain anything. This event gives us a chance to celebrate our differences and gives families a place to relax and be themselves.” Getting a break from the daily routine is a gift for the whole family as the demands of children with special needs can be exhausting, physically and emotionally. “Samantha has daily breathing treatments every 4 hours around the clock and having an open tracheotomy makes it difficult to go out since she can get sick very easily”, says Snider. Despite their challenges, she remains positive, ”Eventhough we have a stressful life, I always remind myself that it can be so much worse. Many people have lost their child. Samantha is still with us. We are so blessed and take it day-by-day.”


Chris Howard enjoys the VIP Christmas Celebration with Snow White, Alison Powers.

It Takes a Village

Living day-by-day makes the holiday season especially difficult for VIP families who often have insurmountable medical bills leaving little disposable income for holiday shopping. Samantha’s family is grateful not only for this event but the similar VIP Fall Festival event, sponsored by the Lions Club, and also the outpouring of support from the community throughout the year, a community Tom grew up in. From glasses for Samantha and brother Dakota(8) provided by the Kiwanas Club to local firefighters showing up at their house with Santa, their family has been overwhelmed with the generosity and love from many local residents and businesses.

Snider sums it up, “Our family is humbled by the response and out pouring of support in the past for Samantha and our family, especially from the Lions and Kiwanas Clubs. We are grateful for the opportunity we have been given for Samantha to be in an enviroment that is comfortable and stress free for her and our family. The love and support of the community never ceases to amaze our family and we are proud to be a part of the Zionsville community.”


Christmas in the Village 2012

Friday, November 30

VIP Christmas Celebration 5:30-7:30pm

(For children & adults with special needs)

Hussey-Mayfield Memorial Public Library

250 N 5th Street

For more information, contact Leigh Ann Akard 317-873-5255 or

VIPs & family sign up:

Volunteer to help:


Saturday, December 1, 2012

9:30am – Santa Arrives on Main Street with Zionsville High School Marching Band!

9:30am-5pm – Holiday Stroll at the library – music, marionettes, crafts, and more

10am-3pm – Visit with Santa – Prudential Indiana Realty Group – 15 South Main St.

10am-3pm – Horse Drawn Carriage & Antique Trolley Rides (Trolley Rides until 4pm)

10am-5pm – Elf Scavenger Hunt at Akard True Value in Boone Village

10am-4pm – Annual Bake Sale – Sullivan Munce Cultural Center

11am-2pm – Chili Bowl Sale – Buy a bowl and fill it with chili – Sullivan Munce Cultural Center

11am-5pm – Carol of Homes Holiday Home Tour with Zionsville Show Choirs


Sunday, December 2, 2012

10am-5pm – Elf Scavenger Hunt at Akard True Value in Boone Village

11am-2pm – Chili Bowl Sale – Sullivan Munce Cultural Center

noon-3pm – Visit with Santa – Prudential Indiana Realty Group – 15 South Main St.

noon-3pm – Horse Drawn Carriage & Antique Trolley Rides

1pm-4pm – Annual Bake Sale – Sullivan Munce Cultural Center


For more information, visit or check out the Facebook page at ZionsvilleChristmas.


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