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Changes to Sunflower Hours to cater to larger audience

Guests with sensory disabilities will have exclusive access on April 6

Don Coble
Posted 3/28/24

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – As the Executive Director of the Clay County Agricultural Fair, Tasha Hyder will be so busy for two weeks she won’t have time to drive home. That’s why she will live in a …

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Changes to Sunflower Hours to cater to larger audience

Guests with sensory disabilities will have exclusive access on April 6


Posted

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – As the Executive Director of the Clay County Agricultural Fair, Tasha Hyder will be so busy for two weeks she won’t have time to drive home. That’s why she will live in a small travel trailer in the Clay County Fairgrounds parking lot.

But no matter how many times someone calls her radio with an issue, she will set aside time to spend with one of her favorite fair fans – 8-year-old Rosie.

The two have forged a bond during the last two years. Rosie is blind and has other sensory issues but can relax and have fun at the Fair.

“We should be doing everything in our ability to cater to everyone,” Hyder said. “We found out that there is a great need for people with disabilities to come enjoy the Fair, and that’s why we put such a huge emphasis on Sunflower Hours.”

This year will be the third year for Sunflower Hours at the Fair, and it’s evolved into one of the most ambitious programs designed to provide time to make rides and entertainment available exclusively to guests with visible and non-visible disabilities. These disabilities can be temporary, situational or permanent. They can be neurological, cognitive and neurodevelopmental, physical, visual and auditory, including sensory and processing difficulties. They can also be respiratory and chronic health conditions such as arthritis and diabetes, chronic pain and sleep disorders, according to Hidden Disabilities Sunflower.

Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

In the first two years, music was muted along the midway because noise often creates anxiety or distress for those with sensory issues to certain sounds. Small tents were around the fairgrounds for anyone who needed to decompress.

But unlike the last two years, Sunflower guests won’t have to share the Fair with other guests. They will have a free run – at no cost – from 8-10 a.m. on Saturday, April 6.

The Fair will open for everyone else at 10 a.m.

To gain admission and receive a Sunflower Hour lanyard, families must register in advance at visit claycountyfair.org/f/290.

During that quiet time, Hyder plans to take Rosie on as many rides as possible. It’s become their special routine.

“I look forward to being with her,” Hyder said. “She has so much energy, and she has so much fun. The Sunflower Hours is perfect for her.”

Hyder said the program remains a work in progress. The Florida Festivals and Events Association honored Clay County with the Most Innovative Award for Sunflower Hours last year. But Hyder wanted to make it better.

“We keep tweaking it every year to figure out what works best,” Hyder said. “Hopefully, this will be the perfect. We held it during normal Fair hours, and it was too crowded and busy. So this year, we’re opening up just for two hours, and it’s not open to the public. People do have to pre-register this year. So, we hope we’ve hit it out of the ballpark this year.

“We truly believe the Fair is for everybody. We want people to be patient with us. It’s a learning curve for our people as well. It’s going to be less crowded and less noisy. We do bring in volunteers who are used to working around people with disabilities. So yeah, just come out, have fun, enjoy the fair, and know that this is a toned-down version of the Fair that caters to everybody.”

Hyder met several times with the Clay County District Schools’ Exceptional Student Advisory Council to get ideas and recruit student volunteers with experience in different abilities.

Also new this year will be therapy dogs from Clay Humane. Companion Animals Reaching Everyone provides comfort and enjoyment for people coping with health problems.

Added with the Poultry Pals for adults and Unlimited Opportunities Goat Show for children, Clay County now has more opportunities for every resident, said Rosie’s mother, Liz Williams.

“Tasha is open to every single suggestion,” Williams said. “You know, one of the things I really like about Tasha is she doesn’t think ‘no.’ She’s always looking for that opportunity, that way to make it possible.

“She is aware there are a lot of families with special needs kids, and they’re on tight budgets. Special needs kids have a lot of expenses that come along with that. Making it accessible and open where they can afford it and bringing their other children in makes a big difference. I think the only thing we have to pay for is food.”

Williams said the first two years were a success, but she expects this year’s expanded Sunflower Hours to become the model other Fairs will follow.

“We have a fair that has national recognition,” she said. “I mean, it’s just fabulous.

“She asked questions about things needed for the kids, how we can best help them, how we can help adults with sensory issues as well.”

But there’s always room for improvement, Hyder said.

“We’re always open to feedback,” she said. “If parents have feedback, let me know. We’re catering to them. If there’s something we can do better, let me know. After all, the Fair is for everybody.”