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posted: 8/12/2013 3:02 PM

South Elgin festival reaches out to special needs families

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  • The sun sets on the opening night of South Elgin's RiverFest Express. This year, the festival runs Thursday, Aug. 15, through Sunday, Aug. 18, at Panton Mill Park.

       The sun sets on the opening night of South Elgin's RiverFest Express. This year, the festival runs Thursday, Aug. 15, through Sunday, Aug. 18, at Panton Mill Park.
    JOHN STARKS | Staff Photographer, 2009

  • Joey Picardi, 11, of Bartlett can't wait for his turn on the slide during last year's "A Special Night for Special Kids" at the South Elgin RiverFest Express. Kids with special needs and their families are allowed free rides and food 6 to 9 p.m. Wednesday to enjoy the festival before the crowds start Thursday. The festival runs Thursday, Aug. 15, through Sunday, Aug. 18, at Panton Mill Park.

      Joey Picardi, 11, of Bartlett can't wait for his turn on the slide during last year's "A Special Night for Special Kids" at the South Elgin RiverFest Express. Kids with special needs and their families are allowed free rides and food 6 to 9 p.m. Wednesday to enjoy the festival before the crowds start Thursday. The festival runs Thursday, Aug. 15, through Sunday, Aug. 18, at Panton Mill Park.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer, 2012

  • Mikayla Nicholas, 12, of Sycamore takes a ride on the teacups with her grandfather, Jim Kozar of Burlington, during "A Special Night for Special Kids" at South Elgin's RiverFest Express.

       Mikayla Nicholas, 12, of Sycamore takes a ride on the teacups with her grandfather, Jim Kozar of Burlington, during "A Special Night for Special Kids" at South Elgin's RiverFest Express.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer, 2011

  • Linda Ansfield, left, and her daughter Amber, 11, dance to the musical entertainment during opening night of the 15th annual RiverFest Express in South Elgin. This year's festival runs Thursday, Aug. 15, through Sunday, Aug. 18, at Panton Mill Park.

       Linda Ansfield, left, and her daughter Amber, 11, dance to the musical entertainment during opening night of the 15th annual RiverFest Express in South Elgin. This year's festival runs Thursday, Aug. 15, through Sunday, Aug. 18, at Panton Mill Park.
    Rick West | Staff Photographer, 2011

  • Chicago area band Liberty's Teeth will perform rock, pop, country, and dance music at 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 15, during South Elgin RiverFest Express. The festival runs Thursday, Aug. 15, through Sunday, Aug. 18, at Panton Mill Park.

      Chicago area band Liberty's Teeth will perform rock, pop, country, and dance music at 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 15, during South Elgin RiverFest Express. The festival runs Thursday, Aug. 15, through Sunday, Aug. 18, at Panton Mill Park.
    Courtesy of Liberty's Teeth

 
By Jennifer Tranmer
jtranmer@dailyherald.com

Years ago, when organizers with South Elgin RiverFest Express decided for the first time that they wanted to offer a special night with free rides and food for kids with special needs, it was no easy task -- especially since they had under four weeks to plan it.

After the idea came up at a meeting, organizers had to work fast to get food vendors and their carnival supplier on board, but it was well worth it, said Joyce Ware, co-chairwoman for the festival.

"It's something very close to our hearts," the South Elgin resident said.

Now in its 11th year, "A Special Night for Special Kids," is set for 6 to 9 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 14, and will lead off the South Elgin RiverFest Express at Panton Mill Park at 10 S. Water St. The festival is open for everyone Thursday through Sunday, Aug. 15-18. Trolleyfest, held by the nearby Fox River Trolley Museum, runs in tandem with the festival, offering rides from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

RiverFest Express, now in its 17th year, traces its roots to South Elgin's centennial celebration, said Ware.

"After the festival, we kept hearing, 'We need to do this again,' so Riverfest began," she explained.

The festival opens to everyone 5 to 10 p.m. Thursday. Come hungry to enjoy food from 10 different vendors: from egg rolls to tacos to barbecue, there's something for every appetite.

After grabbing a bite and a refreshing drink, head to the main stage. Each night features an exciting lineup of bands from a variety of genres, including Liberty's Teeth, Hi Infidelity, Big Guitars from Memphis, and a Battle of the Bands competition.

Make sure to stick around until 9:30 p.m. Sunday, for a fireworks show by "The Mad Bomber." As in past years, he'll be doing a special fireworks display over the river, but he tries to do something new each year, said Ware.

"It's always a surprise," she said of the nearly 30-minute show.

John Pullaro of South Elgin, who coordinates the festival's car show, encourages car lovers to head to County Park at 11 W. Plum St. from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, where they can view a variety of makes and models.

Everything from woodworking and handmade crafts to siding and windows will be available among the 30 vendors at the craft show and small business expo at Seba Park at 50 W. State St., from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

If carnival rides are your thing, one-day ride wristbands are available for $20 for specific times: 6 to 10 p.m. Thursday, and 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Get unlimited rides all four days for $75. Advanced sales are available through the festival website for greater discounts.

Wednesday night's events are for kids with special needs and their families, and Ware said she expects somewhere around 1,000 families to attend. Organizers ask that families preregister for the event by calling the festival hotline at (847) 774-1151.

She said that while she looks forward to the fireworks and Mr. Lee's egg rolls, she's most excited to again host "A Special Night for Special Kids."

Watching the kids interact with police and fire department officials and make friends, "just warms your heart when you see these kids smile," she said.

Visit riverfestexpress.net for a complete lineup of events.

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