HAWTHORNE, N.Y. -- Santa Claus was under the protection of a full Secret Service detail and Westchester County Police officers as he made a special visit to Arc of Westchester in Hawthorne on Friday as part of Operation Sleigh Bells.
Santa made his first stop at Arc of Westchester's Children's School for Early Development, where he arrived in a presidential limo. He was accompanied by a motorcade that included police cruisers, motorcycle, the Westchester County Police Department's helicopter, and two police dogs. U.S. Secret Service agents flanked him as he entered the school to deliver presents to the excited children.
"When the helicopter came in, they couldn't believe it. They were mesmerized," said Fran Pocaro, the assistant executive director of educational services.
The event came about through Secret Service Agent Jeff Wood, the parent of a student at the School for Early Development. The school provides educational and social services for children with developmental disabilities, many of whom are on the autism spectrum. Pocaro said that the students receive one-on-one attention that helps them develop the skills to function in a kindergarten setting.
Wood brought in the Westchester County Police Department, which coordinates with the Secret Service, to help make the event possible.
"This is a phenomenal event," said Capt. Tom Gleason of the Westchester County Police. "It's something we're very excited to get involved with. We were able to bring our canines here and the helicopter. To see the looks on the kids' faces was very gratifying."
After handing out gifts to the children, the motorcade moved down the road to Arc of Westchester's Gleeson-Israel Gateway Center. The center provides a number of services for adults with intellectual and developmental disorders, with the goal of helping them become productive and independent members of society. Here the self-advocates learn daily living and social skills, how to find jobs and stay healthy, and enjoy recreational activities.
The self-advocates cheerfully sang "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" as Santa rolled up in the motorcade. After he greeted everyone, the festivities moved inside, where Wood, Gleason, and other members of the Secret Service and Westchester Police gave a talk on safety. They covered subjects such as what to do if you are the victim of a crime, staying safe online, and the duties of law enforcement.
Arc Executive Director Richard Swierat said that the topics covered in the talk were especially important for the self-advocates.
"Sometimes the people that we serve can be more susceptible to being taken advantage of. We want ot make sure that they pay attention to what's around them and protect themselves," Swierat said. "We're very grateful to the Secret Service for doing this for us."