CALEDONIA - Even though it was Saturday, the gym at Gifford Elementary was filled with children.
There was a parachute in the center, with children playing beneath it. Others zoomed around on Roller Racers or threw soft balls back and forth.
Everyone there was part of a new Make a Difference Day activity, at which children with special needs and their siblings could be dropped off for several hours while their parents got needed time away. About 30 children took part in the event, paired with one of about 60 volunteers there to help.
The event was the first of its kind in the Racine area, coordinated by the county's Birth to Three program and Children's Service Society of Wisconsin. Similar events in Milwaukee drew participation from hundreds of families and thousands of volunteers.
"These are kids you can't just get the baby sitter down the block to care for," said Ellen Anderson, coordinator of respite services for Children's Service Society of Wisconsin. "It enables all those parents to get a break."
Andrea Martinez, 37, Racine, has previously taken her children to one of CSSW's respite events in Milwaukee. She had planned to volunteer at the event, but said Anderson told her she needed the day off, too. She has three children, and her younger two - Gabriel, 10, and Donovan, 6 - have ADHD.
She used her Saturday to go shopping with a friend.
"I have not gone child-free shopping in 16 years," she said, and it's been 10 years since she's been shopping without a special-needs child along.
She went shopping for a Halloween costume for a Saturday evening party.
"I was not going to be able to do it (go shopping) because I didn't have the time," she said. "It's been a high-stress month. This has been the best Christmas gift."
Gabriel said he had a great time.
"I got two piggy-back rides and get a pizza to take home," he said. "It was super-fun."
As Martinez prepared to leave, one of the volunteers came up to talk with her. The woman told Martinez that her younger son had shared with another little girl, offering to trade her toys when he wanted something she had, and once giving her something he had been playing with.
Response from parents was positive, though one woman was upset when she picked up her 3-year-old.
Rick Granite, 44, of Wind Point, is on the board for Racine's CSSW. He said it seemed like a great opportunity to give families a bit of a rest.
"It's been pretty action-filled," Granite said. "They're full of energy. Really, it's been very fun."
He wasn't sure what to expect, he said, but said everyone was having a great time.
"It's been very rewarding," he said. "People were like ‘You're giving up a Saturday,' but else would you be doing?"
Tatjana Bicanin, area manager for CSSW, said the organization is looking for grants, donations and sponsorships for future events. They hope to have four per year, spread between the east and west ends of Racine County.
The event is free of charge to families that participate.
If you are interested in helping or learning more about CSSW, call (262) 633-3591. Information is also available at: