Kiwanis members and police have joined together to make birthdays happier for Lawrence children.
Forget Furby. Tara Smith is more interested in horses than the fictional talking animal that is the rage this Christmas season.
Tara joined hundreds of harried shoppers Tuesday afternoon at Wal-Mart, but it was her 10th birthday, not Christmas, that was on the agenda. Lawrence police officer Brian Jimenez accompanied Smith on her horse-hunting trip as part of a Lawrence Kiwanis Club program that helps birthday wishes come true.
It wasn't a long trip. Tara knew exactly what she wanted, and was quick in finding the toy section where the plastic horses are stocked.
"I love horses," she said Tuesday.
The three horses she chose, including a mother and her foal, will be added to the collection of five toy horses she has at home. By the time she got home to show the toys to her mother, Diana Smith, she had already named one "Brown Gold."
"I also want a real horse," she said, to which her mother was quick to reply, "Which you're not going to get."
The Kiwanis program, Birthday Beat, pairs police officers with needy children referred to the program by local service agencies. The children have a $25 limit to find a gift for their birthday, and the uniformed officers pick children up in a patrol car, help them find a gift, and take them back home. Kiwanis members raise the money for the program.
"I think it's more than just finding them something for their birthday. Sometimes the family's budget is tight, and this gives them something they probably wouldn't get," Jimenez said. "They also get to talk to a police officer and see another side of what we do. We talked about the radio in the car on the way over here."
Kiwanis treasurer David Bushouse, a Kansas University music professor, said the program began five years ago through a suggestion by then-Kiwanis member Lou Ann Holl. Now the city's housing specialist, Holl started First Step House in 1985 to serve recovering female addicts and their children.
"There were children whose mothers had no money for birthday presents or anything else to celebrate their birthday," Bushouse said.
The 20 to 30 children on the Birthday Beat each year usually have a toy in mind, but Jimenez said Tara almost set a speed record.
"I've had kids take more than 45 minutes in there. They usually know what they want, but there are five or six toys they check out before taking the one they picked up first," he said.
Tara doesn't mind having a birthday right before Christmas. For one, the Pinckney School fourth-grader isn't in a classroom because students are enjoying a winter holiday.
The Smiths, including Tara's 11-year-old sister, Laura, and father, Jack, enjoyed a birthday cake over the lunch hour before the shopping trip Tuesday.
"She's always liked horses, and I think this is a real good program," her mother said. "It gives children a positive image of policemen."
-- Chris Koger's phone message number is 832-7126. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.