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Military youngsters treated to ‘Breakfast with Santa,’ Olympic competitors

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – Children from the exceptional family member program greet Santa during the 310th Space Wing’s junior enlisted council-sponsored Breakfast with Santa Dec. 14 at the Peterson Club. The event was exclusively for EFMP children and their families and included photos with Santa, face painting, magic tricks, balloon animals and speeches from representatives from the Special Olympics and the Olympic Training Center. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Jared Marquis)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – Children from the exceptional family member program greet Santa during the 310th Space Wing’s junior enlisted council-sponsored Breakfast with Santa Dec. 14 at the Peterson Club. The event was exclusively for EFMP children and their families and included photos with Santa, face painting, magic tricks, balloon animals and speeches from representatives from the Special Olympics and the Olympic Training Center. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Jared Marquis)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Most kids wake up to breakfast with family and loved ones. Yet, for a special group of military children Dec. 14, that breakfast included a unique visitor all the way from the North Pole.

It was Santa Claus himself who joined Airmen and Soldiers and their families from across the Colorado Springs area as part of the "Breakfast with Santa" event at the Peterson Club, sponsored by the 310th Space Wing's Junior Enlisted Council. The event included the breakfast, pictures with Santa, a magic show and balloon animals for families apart of the Exceptional Family Member Program. According to Military OneSource, the program "works with military families with special needs to address their unique needs."

Senior Airman Nolden Soerensen, vice president of the JEC and the event's organizer, said while it was "stressful" planning this first-of-a-kind outing for the kiddies, he felt it was a success.

"We wanted to do something special for them," Soerensen said. "In many cases, families with EFMP children can't go out to the malls because of the crowds and how cumbersome it would be to wait in long lines. This event offered them some respite in a relaxing environment."

After the magic show, the families were introduced to representatives from both the Special Olympics and the United States Olympic Center. The Special Olympics competitors shared their stories of triumph over physical adversities and why it was important to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Soerensen, who worked with both organizations to be in attendance, supports the idea of having EFMP children keep a robust physical fitness plan.

"I've always believed physical fitness is paramount to maintaining a healthy lifestyle," he said. "A lot of times, kids with special needs have a hard time just getting out and exercising. We wanted the Special Olympics to come in and show these families what is possible for their children. Then we thought, what about the siblings of those special needs children?"

Modern pentathlon competitor Logan Storie and triathlon athlete Erin Jones, who both train at the Colorado Springs-based Olympic Training Center, shared their stories of competition, each educating the audience on the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

"The brothers and sisters of EFMP siblings sacrifice and give so much to help take care of their brother or sister too," Soerensen said.

Anika Soerensen, daughter of Nolden Soerensen, said she was proud of her father and was happy to see families come together "where everyone can relate to one another."

It was nice to see them all react and play together because they generally don't get that same reaction anywhere else with other kids," Anika said. "It's good to bring these families together to help each of them cope with issues. It gives us a chance to look at the good times and know you're not alone."

Soerensen, who is also a defensive space control operator with the 380th Space Control Squadron, hopes the JEC can bring out more EFMP families for next year's Breakfast with Santa. But overall, he wanted to make sure EFMP families know they aren't alone.

"The EFMP program is a fantastic organization looking out for military members," he said. "Outside of the military, it's also about getting together with other military families who have the same challenges and struggles. With stresses at home and work, we want to be sure these families get recognized for what they go through day in and day out."

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