Annual holiday party celebrates a nurturing community

December 10, 2007|By John-John Williams IV | John-John Williams IV,SUN REPORTER

Surrounded by more than 50 dancers, Steven Beerman, 55, grooved with his sister, Lisa Singer, to Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive" last night in a large ballroom in Martin's West.

The song took on special meaning for the siblings this year because Beerman, who has a severe form of mental retardation, has missed the annual Chimes and Intervals holiday party the past two years because of an illness that has required him to use a feeding tube.

This year, he was able to eat pureed roast beef, mashed potatoes and vegetables at the party, which organizers say is the state's biggest for people with disabilities. Chimes, a 60-year-old nonprofit organization, is the largest provider of community-based services for Marylanders with developmental disabilities.

"I couldn't ask for a better organization for him to be part of," said Singer, of Park Heights. "They are very nurturing and helpful."

The party is an opportunity for Timothy Grummer, a 34-year-old with Down syndrome, to "let down his hair," according to his brother, Terrance Grummer.

"He's his own man at the Christmas party," Terrance Grummer said.

Timothy's mother, Clara Grummer of Randallstown, said that he loves the party even though he does not talk a lot.

"He's very social [at the party]," she said. "He loves to dance and have a good time."

More than 1,000 people - including 600 with developmental and physical disabilities - gathered for the party, which was essentially a traditional holiday celebration with a few minor adjustments. For example, most of the food - roast beef, chicken tenders, mashed potatoes, and mixed vegetables - was served in a pureed form in addition to the usual style. Fewer chairs were set up at each table to accommodate wheelchairs.

Although the party was crafted to accommodate people with special needs, more than 400 friends and relatives showed up to support their loved ones.

More than 60 percent of the people enrolled in the Chimes School live with people other than their natural families, said Terry Allen Perl, president and chief executive officer of Chimes.

The organization also serves individuals in Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, the District of Columbia and in Israel. "Caretakers are an important part," Perl said.

Almeta Johnson persuaded a nursing home to allow her former client, Phyllis Katz Nelson, to attend the party with her.

"I wanted her to have her time," said Johnson as she fed Katz Nelson a spoonful of potatoes. "That's my girl. She's so beautiful. She's a wonderful person."

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