Athens nonprofit brings joy to families with 1970s-themed parade

Music, cheers and laughing -- that’s the joy Extra Special People brings individuals with developmental disabilities and their families.

Tuesday, the Athens nonprofit held its last weekly parade, which was created to bring the families together in a safe way during the coronavirus pandemic.

“It was hard, so when they started this, just knowing I could get her out … she was celebrated, and she could see that ‘OK, it’s going to be all right,'” said Melanie Haga, mom of 22-year-old Megan Weaver.

Melanie Haga, mom, and her daughter Megan Weaver. (FOX 5)

Every Tuesday for six weeks, dozens of cars have driven through ESP’s parking lot. This week was 70s themed.

“They were saying they needed support, they needed food, but more than that they needed hope,” said Laura Whitaker, executive director of ESP. “This is a community, and it’s all about support, and families have been raving that this is the thing that has helped them get through the pandemic.”

(Ashley Soriano / FOX 5)

During the pandemic, ESP has delivered food to more than 100 families each week and has helped with rent, utilities, medications and other expenses.

“ESP is a service, but it’s a way of life for the individuals we serve,” Whitaker said.

(Ashley Soriano / FOX 5)

And one mom is speechless when she thinks about the work they do.

“The first [parade] I lost it. She was so excited, and I was just a complete mess,” Haga said. "There are just no words to express how grateful we are for ESP and all that it stands for."