You’ve been granted free access to this subscribers only article.
Some guys in funny hats ... and a few hundred of ‘God’s special kids’
Members of the International Order of the Alhambra, Bejar Caravan 56, welcome their guests May 2 to the San Antonio Zoo.
In May each year, around 600 special visitors descend on the San Antonio Zoo. Led by men in “funny hats” -- white fezzes -- developmentally disabled people of various ages and abilities visit the zoo for a day of fun, food, and fellowship.
The men in their “funny hats” are often mistaken for Shriners, or members of the Alzafar Shrine. But these folks helping “God’s special children” enjoy their day are members of the International Order of the Alhambra, a Catholic fraternal organization dedicated to “Faith ... family ... community ... the cornerstones of a healthy life.”
The International Order’s mission is to provide “assistance to developmentally disabled persons through its charitable programs and projects,” according to the group’s literature. San Antonio’s Bejar Caravan 56, the local chapter of this international group, supports programs and projects, such as Team Ability, the Special Olympics, Dreams Fulfilled Through Music, the Unicorn Centers, and the Mission Road Developmental Center. All provide services for the area’s developmentally challenged population.
Members raise funds and awareness throughout the year to assist these organizations. The zoo trip is the most visible effort; the members have hosted this for more than 40 years. In addition to paying for the zoo visit for more than 630 people -- their special guests, health workers, and assistants -- the members provide a meal and opportunity for fellowship. Members of Bejar 56, assisted by members of their ladies auxiliary, the Sultanas de Bejar, grilled and served hot dogs for their guests, who were entertained this year by the “Alamo Angels Accordion Orchestra,” part of Dreams Fulfilled Through Music; the band members are developmentally challenged, also.
“Once you come to one of the zoo trips, you want to come to all of them!” said Bejar 56 Grand Commander Robert “Bob” Herrera.
“It’s awesome!” exclaimed member David Acosta. “Just to see the faces of the kids. They show up and don’t have to do anything. We do everything! I look forward to this all year!”
The Alhambra volunteers say they get so much from hosting this trip, and enjoy the chance to provide a good day out with no worries for “God’s special children” -- as they refer to their guests -- as well as the adult assistants, staff, and teachers.
The volunteers work hard to ensure everyone feels welcome and at ease. Their guests truly appreciate the day, too.
“They love all the attention and they love that they’re always welcome,” said Raven Zamora, with RMI (Reaching Maximum Independence). “They look forward to this every year!”
“We love the interaction with our clients,” said Dianna Viray, a licensed vocational nurse with Quest College, along for the visit. “... Seeing them have a sense of normalcy. They’re all having a good time!”
Trish Kittrich, an adaptive PE specialist with the San Antonio Independent School District, attending with a group of students from Sarah King Elementary School, was thrilled.
“This is just excellent,” she said. “They feed the kids. We don’t have to carry the food and we can focus on helping the kids, and can take small groups at our own pace, not have a guided tour.”
Theresa Aleman, a special needs teacher at Sarah King Elementary School, has attended with students for the past three years.
“We love it!!” she said. “The kids get to work on their social skills, behavior, and language. It provides an opportunity to come to the zoo we probably wouldn’t have had. They really get to use their language and social skills.”
Another aspect the kids -- of all ages -- and the teachers and assistants enjoy is seeing old friends. They catch up with older students or those who’ve moved into other programs.
“We get to see kids that have moved on,” Kittrich said.
The members of the Alhambras and Sultanas do everything -- from manning a check-in table to issue wristbands for the zoo visitors to barbecuing the hot dogs and serving the meal. And when everyone’s been through the zoo, the volunteers clean up, leaving behind only the memory of a wonderful day for hundreds of “God’s special kids.”
Your Opinions and Comments
Be the first to comment on this story!
You must be logged in to post a comment.
South Texas Living Archives
Benefit for animal shelter is Aug. 1 (July 29, 2015)
Cestohowa Altar Society ladies celebrate 60 years of service (July 29, 2015)
Church youth to hold car wash (July 29, 2015)
Don’t miss Kosciusko Picnic this Sunday (July 29, 2015)
Free movie Friday in Poth (July 29, 2015)
Historical marker denotes former school site (July 29, 2015)
Legion Auxiliary garage sale Aug. 1 (July 29, 2015)
Life in the Camp Ranch community (July 29, 2015)
Luciano Pacheco – the sole Tejano survivor of the Alamo (July 29, 2015)
Opry helps fund historical markers (July 29, 2015)
Popeye beach pail (July 29, 2015)
See a free flick in Elmendorf (July 29, 2015)
Stuff the bus in Stockdale (July 29, 2015)
Summer program ends at Falls City library (July 29, 2015)
WCRSP delivers children’s books to schools (July 29, 2015)
Balance classes start July 27 (July 22, 2015)
Be a high roller in Floresville (July 22, 2015)
Bobble-head Bozo (July 22, 2015)
Cool down with free snow cones (July 22, 2015)
Copper-pot craftsmanship — CINCO Vodka (July 22, 2015)
Marion Sausage Supper is Aug. 1 (July 22, 2015)
Mu Chi members attend state convention (July 22, 2015)
Opry lineup is sure to satisfy (July 22, 2015)
Save the date for Kody Fest Aug. 8 (July 22, 2015)
Shop ‘Trinkets and Treasures’ (July 22, 2015)
SSCA seeks donations for rummage sale (July 22, 2015)
Start two-stepping at FUMC (July 22, 2015)
Texas sales-tax holiday (July 22, 2015)
The Landing offers help for teens (July 22, 2015)
What a difference an ‘A’ makes! (July 22, 2015)
Browse, learn, shop at Home and Garden Show (July 15, 2015)
Celebrate Czech Day in Jourdanton (July 15, 2015)
Daughters of the Republic installs officers (July 15, 2015)
Enjoy St. Anthony church fest (July 15, 2015)
Experience ‘The Hobbit’ under the stars (July 15, 2015)
Free Movies at the Park in Poth (July 15, 2015)
Learn to compost with worms (July 15, 2015)
Legion Auxiliary plans garage sale (July 15, 2015)
Library happenings (July 15, 2015)
Mystery blanket sparks search (July 15, 2015)
Night In Old Fredericksburg is July 18 (July 15, 2015)
Plan now for Beaver Roundup (July 15, 2015)
Teddy bears, pottery (July 15, 2015)
The bridges of Wilson County (July 15, 2015)
‘Atomic tourists’ converge on Trinity Site ahead of 70th anniversary (July 15, 2015)
Behind the lens: Cover photo (July 8, 2015)
Bobby Flores Birthday Bash is July 11 (July 8, 2015)
Early settlers of Wilson County (July 8, 2015)
Enjoy ‘Big Hero 6’ at Movie Day (July 8, 2015)
Enjoy ‘Cool Tunes’ in Brenham (July 8, 2015)
Family violence shelter seeks volunteers (July 8, 2015)
Family weekend fun in Adkins (July 8, 2015)
FHS Reunion is July 25 (July 8, 2015)
Fishing lures (July 8, 2015)
Give blood at Sacred Heart Church (July 8, 2015)
Hamilton earns rank of captain (July 8, 2015)
Memorial hog hunt a hit! (July 8, 2015)
Save the date for Home and Garden Show (July 8, 2015)
See comedians in China Grove (July 8, 2015)
‘Alabama’ to invade K-Town (July 8, 2015)
‘Dying’ brings broadcaster back to life (July 8, 2015)
Bible study in Verdi (July 1, 2015)
Buses, pickup trucks, automobiles, and walking (July 1, 2015)
Davy Crockett, Depression glass (July 1, 2015)
Dog shows start July 8 (July 1, 2015)
Enjoy Fourth of July parade, concert in Seguin (July 1, 2015)
Enjoy Sunday Dances all month (July 1, 2015)
Free July 4 concerts in SA (July 1, 2015)
Free music, fireworks in Brenham (July 1, 2015)
Ice cream makers, tasters needed (July 1, 2015)
Jack's Cafe adds Sports Room and patio (July 1, 2015)
July is for grape stomping (July 1, 2015)
Look who's flying solo! (July 1, 2015)
Memories fly following balloon stories (July 1, 2015)
Register for state-wide Chili Cook-off (July 1, 2015)
Remembering my first haircut (July 1, 2015)
Savor: Summer drinks with calories and exercise equivalents (July 1, 2015)
South Texas Gardener reveals 'mystery plants' (July 1, 2015)
The Gathering Music Show (July 1, 2015)