Hailey O’Banion, 11, holds her new Minions toy tight after sinking a few baskets at a carnival game booth at the Evergreen State Fair in Monroe on Wednesday. The fair opened early on Wednesday, as part of the Morning of Dreams event, to give fairgoers with special needs a chance to enjoy the festivities without the usual crowds. (Ian Terry / The Herald)

Hailey O’Banion, 11, holds her new Minions toy tight after sinking a few baskets at a carnival game booth at the Evergreen State Fair in Monroe on Wednesday. The fair opened early on Wednesday, as part of the Morning of Dreams event, to give fairgoers with special needs a chance to enjoy the festivities without the usual crowds. (Ian Terry / The Herald)

‘Faces light up’ at Evergreen State Fair’s Morning of Dreams

MONROE — The 10-day-old pink piglets and soft, floppy-eared bunnies were a hit.

The chickens, with their sporadic movements and sudden loud crowing, seemed to be a little much. Still, guests paused near the cages to appreciate some of the fowls’ funky feathers.

“Well, you can’t ask a chicken to be quiet,” Carol McKiernan said.

She visited the Evergreen State Fair on Wednesday during its first ever Morning of Dreams event with her husband, Ed, and their grandchildren, Sarah, Nate and Drew, of Duvall. Nate and Drew are 12-year-old twins who live with autism.

During Morning of Dreams, parts of the fair opened early for guests with disabilities and their families. The crowd was limited to 500, to keep things calm. Every one of the 500 available tickets sold.

Drew liked that he and his brother were allowed to pet some of the bunnies, but wanted “way less chickens.” The boys were looking forward to the rides, which opened in the Kiddieland area around 10 a.m.

“I think this just expands the fair’s ability to reach a lot of different kids, especially kids who can’t handle all of the lights and the noise and crowds, but they still appreciate the exhibits and activities,” Carol McKiernan said.

Jessica Lee and her daughter, Hailey O’Banion, 11, came with Hailey’s friend from a local dance team. Lee has a dance studio in Monroe. She and Hailey have come to the fair in the past, but it always takes Hailey a while to get comfortable. She has Down syndrome, and the fair can be overstimulating. Once she gets into her groove, though, “you can’t keep her off the rides, can’t keep her from making friends,” Lee said.

It was nice to visit the fair during a time when exhibitors were prepared to interact with groups of children and adults with disabilities. Everyone seemed eager to greet the guests, and understanding of when they wanted to participate or when they needed space, Lee said.

Along with the exhibits, the fair set up two quiet rooms if visitors needed to decompress for a few minutes.

Ed Miller, of Granite Falls, has been showing pigs at the fair for more than 30 years. He’s famous for bringing newborn piglets each year. He jumped at the chance to participate in Morning of Dreams, he said. Miller brought piglets out of the pen so people could hold or pet them.

“To me, this is something really special,” he said. “You can see their faces light up, you see that smile.”

Animals can be therapeutic for people with disabilities. The tiny piglets don’t judge, and they don’t mind being petted, patted or simply stared at. One young boy came over to touch a piglet and his mom got excited because he normally doesn’t like animals, she told Miller.

“To me, that’s a big win,” he said. “I think it’s really special they have a morning like this. It’s something they ought to expand on.”

Eagle Wings disAbility Ministries bought 100 tickets to provide free to its clients. The Marysville-based nonprofit is focused on caring, ongoing relationships for adults with disabilities in Snohomish County, and building those through events and activities. Morning of Dreams is a great example of the type of event that makes people with disabilities feel like they belong, volunteer coordinator Jill Maas said.

Friends Katie Harrell, of Snohomish, and Debbi Gray, of Bothell, brought their adult daughters, Megan and Joy, to the fair. The 24-year-olds, both of whom have Down syndrome, are like sisters, Megan said. She baked peanut butter chocolate chunk cookies and entered them into the fair this year. She won a ribbon.

The families have come to the fair in past years, but it’s stressful, Harrell said. She both loves and dreads it every summer. The Morning of Dreams was peaceful, and they ran into a lot of people they know.

“It’s not too crowded,” Megan said, which made her feel more comfortable. She was bubbling with energy while Joy stayed quiet, still trying to decide what she wanted to do with her time at the fair.

The Morning of Dreams was an important opportunity, and the Harrell and Gray families hope it continues in the years to come.

“We all have dreams,” Megan said.

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; kbray@heraldnet.com.

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