For Laura Papaleo, principal of Premm Learning Center in Oakdale, Santa’s visit to the Eastern Boces School that works with children with moderate to severe developmental disabilities was one of the things she looked forward to the most when she took the position earlier this year.
The annual event held on Friday coordinated and executed by the Suffolk County Police Benevolent Association — the union that represents rank-and-file officers — and their families is the culmination of a months-long process of interviewing students and teachers to find out what was on their wish list for Santa.
“For the Suffolk County PBA, this is the best thing we do for the community and for the organization,” said PBA member Ron Ross. “Each child is asked back in September what they want for Christmas. We go shopping from September through last week. This is the first time we’ve seen our living room since the fall! It’s our family — and the PBA is an extension of our family because we couldn’t do it without them. My wife Sherilyn is an expert at shopping for these items and I have to defer to the expert.”
More than 90 children, along with their school aids and occupational therapists waited with bated breath for the arrival of Santa, who pulled up outside the school in a lit-up fire truck. When he entered the cafeteria, transformed by the PBA volunteers festively dressed as elves into a winter wonderland, the excitement was palpable.
The Suffolk County Police Department’s top brass, including Police Chief Stu Cameron, Deputy Chief James Skopek, Deputy Police Commissioner Risco Mention-Lewis, and Suffolk County District Attorney Tim Sini were on hand for Santa’s arrival, where one little girl ran to the officer dressed as Santa for an impromptu hug. If there was a dry eye in the building, it was not in sight.
“We know our kids are special but for the PBA to recognize these children with individual gifts for each one of them, it fosters an incredible sense of community that is truly inspiring,” said Papaleo.
The Suffolk County PBA has been hosting this event for more than 35 years.
“The happiness and joy of a child is what Christmas is about to the PBA,” said Suffolk County PBA President Noel DiGerolamo.
When Santa finished handing out gifts for each child, some of whom depended on therapists and aids to help them to communicate with Santa to receive the presents and say thank you, the Suffolk County PBA provided lunch for the students and staff.
The Premm Learning Center is a program that serves students with moderate to severe developmental disabilities in cooperation with the parents, to ensure that each student develops to his/her maximum potential academically, socially, and physically and achieves his/her highest level of independence.