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'Not So Haunted House' a hit at Austintown Plaza

October 23, 2019
Sean Barron , The Town Crier

Jada Jones enjoyed drinking and shaking a few magic potions, though no dark mystery lay behind the results.

"They were really good at setting things up that looked different and smelled different," said Jada's mother, Michele Jones, who gave her assessment of what it was like to have walked with Jada through the first "Not So Haunted House" on Saturday in the former Fashion Bug store at the Austintown Plaza.

Hosting the free, four-hour Halloween-themed funfest was Gateways to Better Living Inc., a local agency that offers residential and day programs to those with developmental and intellectual challenges.

Article Photos

Jada Jones, 13, and her mother, Michele Jones of Youngstown, share a moment of fun at the first 'Not So Haunted House' event Saturday in the Austintown Plaza. The free event gave children and adults with special needs an opportunity to walk through seven sensory-friendly stations and experience an early taste of Halloween.

Jada, 13, a Leonard Kirtz School seventh-grader, was born with Down syndrome and is nonverbal, her mother said.

The event was carefully crafted to provide seven stations with an emphasis on offering special activities and Halloween-related objects those with sensory problems could comfortably touch, smell, taste and touch, noted Gail Reese, Gateways' executive director.

The seven were Scentsational Slime for participants to guess the smell of the material; the Last Laboratory, set up for them to mix and taste their own potions; the Witches Brew, which allowed attendees to feel hidden ingredients, then pour and create bubbles; Spooky Shakers, for making one's own sensory material; the Ghost Boogie, in which attendees used a small item to make a ghost dance with static electricity; You Look Bootiful Darling, which allowed participants to be photographed; and a Not So Haunted Forest Walk, for experiencing a variety of sights, sounds and sensations.

Also available was an interactive role-playing opportunity called a Practice Trick or Treat Door.

Absent, however, were trap doors, stained-glass windows, people in horror-film character masks who suddenly jump out of hiding and other things typical of more traditional haunted houses so that those with sensory challenges wouldn't be frightened or startled, Reese explained.

Far from being scared, however, Jada seemed to adjust to the less-haunted haunted house largely because "she's one of those kids who likes spooky things," Michele said.

Nothing is spooky about the girl's overall personality, though, because she is quick to offer hugs to those with whom she feels comfortable. She also has a sense of humor and enjoys movies and TV shows with comedians such as Adam Sandler and Jimmy Fallon, who hosts the "Tonight Show," Michele continued.

"She can be outgoing. She wants to say hello to everybody," Jada's mother added.

Also accompanying Jada at the event was her father, Jerome Jones, who works at Barry Dyngle's Pub.

More than 300 people, including an estimated 175 children, had gone through the Not So Haunted House within the first two hours, Reese said. Around the same time, long lines were continuing to form outside.

It is hoped that the inaugural event will lead to connections with area businesses that will contribute to its future growth, she continued.

"Hopefully we will develop partnerships with companies. So many kids need this," Reese added.

Kristie Rossi, Gateways' vocational director in charge of its day programs, expressed gratitude that plaza officials offered the space for the event without charge.



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