THOMASTON, Conn. (WTNH) – “When we first started Sun, Moon and Stars, we started it as supper club so families could be together in a judgement free way,” says Christine Faressa who realized the group for families affected by autism could do more, helping participants enjoy activities that neurotypical families take for granted.
So, the mom of 12-year-old Domenick partnered with the Naugatuck Railroad and the Railroad Museum of New England to create a festive, sensory-friendly excursion.
“That’s really what we’ve tried to do with Sun, Moon and Stars is build a community around these kids and my son where every event and every activity, he sees his friends,” said Faressa.
“The music is tuned down, our bell distribution from Santa is different and everyone on the train is understanding of what’s going on in the environment they’re in,” said Operations Director Orion Newall, noting that this is the only holiday train experience of its kind in all of New England.
In the seven years it’s been running, the special outing has grown in leaps and bounds. This year, they’re adding even more space.
“It was amazing because it started as 1 car then 2 cars then 3 cars – how about we do the whole train? And now we’re at 2 full trains, 310 people a train,” said Newall.
The goal is to be inclusive and to share these historic, restored trains and stations, dating back to 1881, with every child of every ability.
“The car we’re standing in right now is from 1927,” said Newall.
Let’s face it: kids love to ride trains, especially when the passengers are also Santa Claus and Rudolph.
“As I walk through the train and I talk to some of my families – so many new families, as well – it’s just the joy and appreciation and the happiness, that’s it, the smiles, we love seeing the smiles,” said Faressa who knows the need is there and plans to continue expanding this effort – and others – to keep creating those smiles.
“I’m really excited. It’s really just a joyous thing when you see the train coming down the tracks and the lights and all the things,” she says. “It’s magical, it’s Christmas magic!”
Newall hopes this idea spreads all around the country. The Sun, Moon and Stars Autism Friendly Santa Express runs the weekend after Thanksgiving.
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