Happy Hayride For ‘Friends’

Published 6:07 pm Friday, October 29, 2010

The sun started to fall. The night air became cooler. The haybails were out and the decorations were in place. It was theperfect setting for a Halloween get-together, an event anyone couldenjoy.

Most members of Wednesday’s Friends, an activities program forthe mentally handicapped, joined Versie Rushing at his home in WestLincoln for a hayride and party.

Rushing said his 12 years as Lincoln County schoolsuperintendent and his nephew Brad Tillotson, a member ofWednesday’s Friends, encouraged him start the Halloween bash sevenor eight years ago.

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“They’re kids that no one thinks about that often,” Rushingsaid. “They look forward to this type of activity every year.”

There were no special accommodations or inquisitive stares. Theevent was nothing fancy, and that was the point.

“This just means everything to us. They never get an opportunityto get out,” parent Debra McCaffrey said. “They may be grown, butthey’re still kids, a lot like us.”

Group members, friends and family enjoyed joking with oneanother, eating hotdogs and snacking on one of the many treats theybrought to the party.

“It’s just a plain, down right, good time,” said Mattie Rials,activities director for the Pike-Amite-Walthall Library System.”There is just friendship, fellowship and good food that makes itso special … you might want to underline the food.”

When the hayride started, most members’ eyes lit up brighterthan the high beams on the tractor they were about to board, butone group member thought the hotdogs were the night’s bestfeature.

“I like to pig out,” Susan Polk said.

Among the hayride and all the food, the group still discussed alittle football.

“I like Mississippi State and Ole Miss, but no one is talking meinto rooting for LSU,” Polk joked.

While most enjoyed a night of friendship, it was a learningexperience for some.

“I used to look at people here a different way,” said SouthwestMississippi Community College Freshman John Montgomery. “When Icome here now, I see them the same way we are, they live the samelife that we do.”

With the help of his wife Betty Carol Rushing and 12-year-oldgrandson Zane Rushing, Versie Rushing takes a week to prepare hisproperty for the event. However, he said it is a task he gladlydoes year in and year out.

“It gives me some self satisfaction to know that somebody takesan interest in them,” Versie Rushing said. “It lets them know thatthey are a part of society too.”

Wednesday’s Friend is a group that started 25 years ago at theold library on State Street in McComb. The first group consisted ofseven members, but has grown since to 24 members.

The group meets every Wednesday at 10:30 a.m. and the memberslisten to guest speakers, participate in service projects, buildcrafts and enjoy refreshments. Still, it’s the night of the hayridethey will remember.

“When they leave here, they look forward to a year from now,”Versie Rushing said.