From the first pair of beads to the last doubloon picked up from the street, the Carnival season is a non-stop thrill for New Orleans children. While in other cities the end of December might bring disappointment, here in New Orleans it only means that 12th Night is on its way and King Cakes will soon line the shelves at Haydel’s Bakery. Going to parades, spending time with family and friends and choosing a costume for Mardi Gras Day are easily among my most cherished childhood memories. Every year, I counted the hours until each one of my favorite parades rolled down St. Charles Avenue and had a favorite spot from which to watch. It wasn’t until I had my own children that I thought about the complex logistics that go along with the combination of crowded parades and children. And it wasn’t until I heard about the Krewe of VIPs that I truly considered the even more complex logistics that go along with the combination of crowded parades and children who have special needs.
Throw Me Somethin’!
Several years ago, Dr. Juan Gershanik (whose list of outstanding volunteer achievements, including being a St. Charles Avenue Activist, is far too long for me to list in this column) approached the leadership of his synagogue with an idea. Like most brilliant ideas, the idea for the Krewe of VIPs was beautifully simple. Given its location on the corner of General Pershing Street and St. Charles Avenue, Touro Synagogue happens to occupy one of the most coveted spots for parade watching in all of New Orleans. Dr. Gershanik suggested that the synagogue use that location to its full advantage by building viewing stands and offering the space to families of children with special needs. As you might expect, the Touro congregation embraced the idea and sprung into action. In addition to creating wheelchair accessible viewing stands, the synagogue also spread the word by reaching out to local schools and organizations that provide services to children with disabilities. Since its inception, the Krewe of VIPs has been a great success and has brought the Mardi Gras spirit to children of all religious faiths and backgrounds, from all across New Orleans, with all sorts of special needs.
Mardi Gras Memories in the Making
There are countless ways in which the effects of certain developmental disabilities make going to parades difficult or even impossible. For a child who uses a wheelchair because of developmental delays caused by Cerebral Palsy, for example, the immense crowds at Muses might just be impossible to navigate while watching from the street. For a child with autism who’s highly sensitive to bright lights and roaring crowds, the safety of a viewing stand might make a parade that was once intolerable easier to tolerate. Thanks to Touro Synagogue, children for whom the only option might otherwise be to stay at home are experiencing the thrill of Mardi Gras in a safe and secure environment. The Krewe of VIPs is making a difference by helping children with disabilities create Mardi Gras memories that will last a lifetime.
Just the Facts:
The Krewe of VIPs is a Touro Synagogue program that offers Mardi Gras parade viewing stands to children with disabilities and their families
Touro congregation members host the VIPs, offering donated King Cakes, blankets and books to enhance the experience
Touro Infirmary generously opens their parking garages for Krewe of VIP parking
A group of Loyola University students provides entertainment for the children while they wait for the parades to roll
To learn more about the Krewe of VIPs, contact Touro Synagogue at 895-4843 or visit TouroSynagogue.com