The best thing we do as a local Exchange Club is the Christmas party for a group home of eight mentally challenged adults.

This is more than raising funds for a good cause. This is the good cause itself.

“We’re actively involved,” said club secretary Walter Landergan. “We connect with people. You can do only so many fund-raisers. You can hand out only so many checks.”

Each year we get a wish list from the staff and shop for the eight adults — two women and six men. These gifts are delivered by Santa Claus in the midst of a buffet, followed by the singing of Christmas carols.  I always leave with a good feeling.

“It’s a lot of work,” said past president Cyndy Lewis, “but I really find this to be the most satisfying of what we do. We do a whole event — from cutting the tree, to bringing in the food, to Santa handing out gifts. to singing Christmas carols. I always leave with a warm feeling ”

Now. let me say right up front, this takes some getting used to, as admitted by member Bruce Connor: “I have a difficult time with the party. I don’t know why.  I guess I just don’t know what to do. I feel lost. But even though I don’t feel comfortable, they get a kick out of our being there. So it’s worth it. It’s one of the finest things we do.”

“Working with the elderly is my first choice.” he continued *They appreciate it. Kids expect things. But when you’re working with adults who are child-like, it’s a real nice blend of both. Every year this becomes more of a tradition. It’s the most special thing we do. They appreciate it so much

The party had an impact on other members as well.

“l was amazed.” said member Val Day, “Getting married. Asking Santa to the wedding. They’re looking forward to life. not Just surviving. ”

“Having conversations with people gives meaning to their lives,” she added. “l really l00k forward to the party I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

Nor would local member and district secretary Tony Fusco, who commented, “l find that no matter how stressed I feel at this time of year when I attend that night, I, without, question leave with the true feeling of Christmas.”

One year, for the last time, a set of patents was In attendance at the party. They were curious as to who we were and asked their son Evan.

“It’s the Friendship Club,” he explained, unable to think of our official name.

“l think that sums it all up,” said his mother. ”He considers you as friends coming to a party. People will give money and drop off gifts, but very few people will come and spend an evening.  My son and the others look forward to it. It was absolutely wonderful.”

The Friendship Club. I like that.