It's not unusual for schools to host holiday shows featuring students singing carols this time of year. The San Diego County Office of Education's (SDCOE) Davila Day School held its annual Winter Performance this month.
This year's Davila holiday show, however, was bittersweet. It was the final event for the Southwest Lions Club, longtime supporters of the Davila, a special education school in Chula Vista. The school serves students who are deaf or hard of hearing from South County and East County, from preschool through 6th grade.
For 40 years, the Southwest Lions Club has supported students in the South County deaf and hard of hearing program, previously housed at the adjacent Vista Square Elementary. The Lions Club is treated to a holiday performance, and the club brings Santa Claus to visit with gifts and treats. With membership dwindling, the service club is disbanding at the end of the year, and its holiday tradition with Davila will end.
There were loads of smiles and a few tears at the final Lions Club-Davila holiday show this month, however. Lions Club members Judy and Bruce Goldman, Barbara Altbaum, and Frank Pusateri as Santa enjoyed six holiday-themed numbers. The show featured songs, dancing, and storytelling from Davila students and staff members using American Sign Language and their voices.
"I love the time and effort they put into the performances, and the teachers are so great," Judy Goldman said.
After the show, every student visited one-on-one with Santa and received a present. The Lions Club members don't receive wish lists, but they have a knack for matching children and toys.
"Our feelings are pure joy seeing them open presents," Judy Goldman said. "We are so nervous about the children not liking the toys, but they are always so happy. They are always so grateful."
Students waited patiently until all had received a present, then ripped off the gift wrap after Principal Tina Neal counted, "1, 2, 3." The students were all smiles as they proudly showed their new soccer balls, footballs, dolls, action figures, toy cars, stuffed animals, games, and character watches.
Goldman said the club members always look forward to the handmade thank you cards they receive from the students.
"I will miss everything about the event, but the thing I will miss the most is seeing the faces of the children when they see Santa," she said, adding that she is hopeful that another service club will take an interest in carrying on the tradition. "If another group hears about this and wants to step in, I would be so happy."
For the Lions Club's final holiday show at Davila, there was a happy revelation. Davila's newest student, 2 ½-year-old Manny Cabral, is a second-generation student in the DHH program. His mother, Stephanie, shared fond memories of the Lions Club holiday visits, adding that she still has photos of herself with the Lions Club Santa.
"I remember looking forward to rehearsals for the performances, seeing Santa Claus, and getting gifts," Cabral said. "I loved the Lions Club, and I consider myself fortunate to have experienced it one last time with my son Manny."
Caption: Stephanie Cabral with her sons and Southwest Lions Club members.