GARDEN GROVE, Calif. – More than 2,000 mentally and physically challenged students got to experience the 61st Annual Garden Grove Strawberry Festival a day before the general public. It’s all part of the festival’s Special Kids Day, traditionally held the Thursday before opening weekend. 

Special Kids Day is not open to the public. The students from the different special education programs throughout the Garden Grove Unified School District and neighboring communities received the invitations in advance. 

The event brought in more than 2,000 students, about 1,000 chaperones which included teachers and parents, and about 200 volunteers from the Boys and Girls Club and Garden Grove High School Associated Student Body.  

Kimberly Nguyen’s son, Aaron Nguyen, is seven-years-old. Aaron is enrolled in a special education class at a nearby elementary school. When he was born, he spent three months in a neonatal intensive care unit, short for NICO, at Fountain Valley Regional Hospital.

Doctors considered him weak and treated his clubfoot, which is a birth defect in which the foot is twisted out of shape or position. After wearing a brace and undergoing therapy for years, Aaron is better now, but suffers from anxiety when he’s experiencing something new or when he’s in large crowds. 

“I took a day off to enjoy the festival with my son. I am thankful the festival opened early for children like my son,” said Kimberly Nguyen. 

Aaron needs help to get on and off rides. It also took him some time to get acclimated to the large crowds and long lines at the festival. His story is one of the many reasons why the festival’s board members continue to host Special Kids Day. 

“It never gets old. It always gets me right here. It’s just something that’s so special to see,” said Dawn Miller. 

Miller is the Garden Grove Strawberry Festival Board President. She’s been a part of the board for 33 years and has been overseeing Special Kids Day for 19 years. She’s helped reach out to sponsors to donate to the event, which allows children and their families to enjoy the festival for free. 

“Learning is difficult for a lot of these kids and they have to work really hard the whole school year and this is just something that we can do to really reward them for all of their hard work,” said Miller. 

The Garden Grove Strawberry Festival kicks off on Friday, May 24, and continues through Memorial Day on Monday. Carnival rides, contests, a parade and other entertainment will take place at Village Green Park. 

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