M’boro Police spread Christmas cheer

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 18, 2004

MURFREESBORO – Speechless. That was how Phillip Gatling assistant principal of Riverview Elementary, described the events he saw unfold here Thursday as the Murfreesboro Police Department (MPD) once again made joyful memories for some very special children.

For the second consecutive year, the department has delivered more than just pretty packages, as they sought to provide special needs children with a Christmas to remember.

It all started last year when teacher Rhonda Jones contacted MPD Sergeant Jamie Dilday to solicit help in getting Santa to visit her classroom.

When the department did this last year, it made such an impression on Dilday and his fellow officers that they wanted to continue the tradition.

&uot;These kids have a special place in my heart,&uot; said Dilday, who coordinates most of the effort on his own free time by collecting donations from various area businesses and fellow officers and giving the money to Jones to purchase the items.

&uot;The gifts are not only fun for the kids to play with,&uot; said Jones. &uot;They bring great joy and excitement, but they also foster language concepts and communication skills.

&uot;When the kids tell Santa what they want for Christmas and they immediately get what they asked for, they are learning to see language as a functional skill to get them what they want.&uot;

Jones, who has been a special education teacher for 22 years, also said that the gifts provide a wonderful teaching opportunity.

&uot;When the kids open their gifts, they begin to identify the different shapes and colors and practice counting, activities that are very essential helping to develop their ability to communicate,&uot; she said.

Gatling, a former exceptional teacher himself, saw the benefits too. &uot;When I look at these kids, I really don’t see a difference between them and other children,&uot; he said.

&uot;These kids do everything that the other kids do. They go to the computer lab, they eat in the cafeteria, everything. Some of them may be non-verbal, but they can communicate and their smiles are no different,&uot; he said.

&uot;We want for them what we want for all our students, to see them reach their full potential. I wouldn’t have it any other way.&uot;

As a result of the TEACCH (Treatment and Education of Autistic and related Communication Handicapped Children) and the &uot;outstanding work&uot; of Jones, Gatling stated that some of the children that were in her class last year had been moved to regular classes.

&uot;This is a highly structured program and Mrs. Jones maintains the only one in the county. She does wonders with the kids,&uot; said Gatling.

The adults sat mesmerized as they watched the children bounce about with glistening eyes and bursts of laughter while playing with giant dump trucks, spiderman figures, wooden train sets and delightful treasures.

&uot;You can see the effect it has on the kids,&uot; said Murfreesboro Police Chief Darrell Rowe in appreciation of Dilday for &uot;all the hard work&uot; he had done.

&uot;Doing something like this is just as important, if not more important, than any other aspect of law enforcement. It let’s children see police officers in a more positive light than they sometimes do and it’s an added plus for the officers because it reaffirms their faith in the goodness of people,&uot; he said.

&uot;Jamie did an excellent job and I was glad to be a part of it,&uot; said MPD Sgt. Mike Patterson.

Captain Chris Sumner also commended Dilday for going &uot;above and beyond the normal expectations of an officer&uot; adding that since he and his wife and officer Patterson and his wife had had children of their own it gave them a whole new perspective.

&uot;We do it for the kids,&uot; said patrolman Brian Futrell, echoing their sentiments &uot;It reminds me of what Christmas is all about, giving and bringing joy to others.&uot;

Gatling expressed heartfelt appreciation for the continuous support of the MPD and said, &uot;They’re always here for us and it makes a difference in the lives of those at our school and in the community.&uot;

Jones added, &uot;Sgt. Dilday has started a wonderful thing and it is only possible because of him, the MPD and the generosity of Murfreesboro citizens. Our children are truly blessed to have friends like these.&uot;

In addition to the financial donations of area businesses and individuals, lunch sandwiches were provided courtesy of Subway.