Jamie Comer just had to throw his arms around Ed Kulich and give him a tremendous hug. After all, this was probably the fifth year that he's attended this fabulous Christmas party, and it's all thanks to Kulich. Edward Kulich, a lifelong resident of PW, has been throwing a Christmas bash for "his special children," as he calls them, for the past ten years.
Ed Kulich and his special children.
The idea came to him, Kulich explained, when he was involved with the Manhasset Bay Sportsmen Club's Snapper Derby. There he was, fishing at the Town Dock with a group of young people, when a van pulled up. Inside the vehicle were several developmentally delayed children. "Can we join?" the driver asked. "Of course!" Kulich answered, and it gave him an idea for a Christmas party, all their own.
This year's party boasted about 90 people, mostly children, and they could hardly contain their excitement. Walking into the decorated party room of the Manhasset Bay Sportsmen's Club, the partygoers were greeted with long tables set up for dining. The children feasted on baked ziti, meatballs, and hot dogs. A DJ played both popular music and holiday classics, as the socializing began. It was impossible to find anyone who wasn't enjoying him or herself.
Kulich, who is the major force and benefactor of this event, expressed gratitude to the Club, for donating the space, wonderful volunteers, and the Tom's Point Marina, for their donations. Going to a variety of stores, Kulich purchased gifts for every child, and was up until the early morning hours, wrapping them, along with his volunteers. Making sure every child had transportation to the Club, Kulich himself picked up and drove some children to the party.
Six of the partygoers attend Schreiber High School's developmentally disabled program. Others were members of the Town of North Hempstead's Recreation Program for the Developmentally Disabled. Some live in group homes or with their families, Kulich explained. All look forward to what has become an annual event. Kulich, who works as a groundskeeper at Schreiber High School, said that last week a few of these teens "got into trouble" for cutting class in order to find him and get some details about the party. "I love them. These are my special children," Kulich says Besides these young people, Kulich has a son, Richard, and a daughter, Tracie.
After dining, the children were ready for some dancing. As the DJ played Britney Spears' latest hit and a rapping Will Smith number, the kids sang all the lyrics and displayed all the right moves. Some sang into their "faux" inflatable microphones, exhibiting splits or dancing that rivaled the MTV stars. With Hawaiian leis around their necks, many of the girls, dressed in holiday sweaters or cranberry velvet dresses, danced together. And others, notably the younger children, donned their sunglasses and hats, and began exuberantly playing their inflatable guitars.
Watching and helping the children, were friends like Schreiber special education teacher Evelyn Shonbrun, with husband Leslie. She proudly spoke of the special accomplishments of these children, and mentioned that some gain work experience at local stores like Genovese and Trunz. For instance, Jamie Comer, a graduate of her program, now works at Burger King. Bonnie Soldano, an educational assistant who works with Mrs. Shonbrun, was also enjoying the children and the festivities. Some of the TONH's program staff were present too, like Phil Hirsch, a special education teacher at Islip High School, and Jonathan Spector, a guidance counselor. "This is so gratifying...we have a lot of fun with these kids," Spector remarked. One nurse was in attendance, as a volunteer, should her help be needed, and a second nurse was there to help one child in particular.
But when holiday music came on strong, there was almost a hush in the room. The children suspected what was next. After costumed volunteers came in as Frosty the Snowman and Mickey Mouse, Santa Claus is Coming to Town was played. And sure enough, in came Santa (along with an adorable elf). This jovial soul was ready to bestow presents and hear everyone's wish.
Reprising his role as Santa this year, was Erik, a corrections officer who resides in PW. He recalled a touching moment from last year, when a young child with Down's Syndrome said all he wanted for Christmas was for his mother to walk again.
The generosity of Ed Kulich once again spread great cheer to these special children. The exceptional kindness and huge heart of this one man will be remembered all year long.