VIP Carnival benefits those with special needs


Zionsville Lions Club member Leigh Ann Akard was intrigued about the idea of holding a VIP Carnival after reading an article about a club in Texas holding a similar event in 2008.

“From there, I bounced it around with a few people, and we brainstormed it,” Akard said. “At the time, there were 130 members of our club, and I knew of three families with special needs. As we started, we learned (of) more of those in the club who were affected. It touched more families than we had even thought of.”

The Zionsville Lions Club started the VIP Carnival in 2008, and Akard said it has grown each year, with the exception of the 2020 Fall Festival, which was canceled because of COVID-19. The 2019 VIP Carnival drew approximately 1,500 guests.

The Fall Festival’s VIP Carnival is a free event designed for the families and caregivers of children and adults with special needs. VIP stands for “very important people,” and the goal of the event is to provide the families with a friendly environment. The VIP Carnival is presented by the Zionsville Lions Club in partnership with HAWK Foundation, which was created to hold the events for those with special needs. HAWK stands for “helping all with kindness.”

The event starts at 5 p.m. Sept. 10, an hour before the rides open from 6 to 8 p.m. Akard said there will be a free dinner and booths related to those with special needs. Mr. Daniel, the children’s performer, will perform at the Gazebo. Silly Safari will be on-site as well. There will be face painting and a bounce house.

Akard said each family is given two wristbands, one for the special needs person and one that they can share within the family.

“It’s been an evolving event, which is awesome,” said Akard, who organizes the event each year. “Everybody brings to it their time and their talent. We just create a neat event.”

Akard said it’s an event the siblings of the VIPs look forward to as well.

“The families have been so busy taking care of their loved ones that they might not have been able to go to a carnival, or they might not have been able to afford to go to a carnival because things were tight,” Akard said.

The HAWK Foundation typically holds a VIP Christmas Celebration and VIP Family Luau. Akard said donations are always appreciated because there was no fundraising in 2020 because the events were canceled.

“We’re always looking if someone wants to donate their time, their money or their talent,” Akard said.

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