Meeting and greeting a tall, white rabbit

NEWPORT BEACH — With a 6-foot-tall white rabbit in front of her, 5-year-old Maya Graves leaned on her new friend for the day as she attempted to touch to his soft fur.

Savannah Rogers, 17, helped the visually impaired Maya connect her hand with the Easter Bunny, but Maya quickly pulled back her hand. Yet the little one quickly wanted to try once more.

"I want to shake his hand again," Maya said.

Maya was one of about 30 students ages 3 to 7 from the Blind Children's Learning Center at the Newport Dunes Waterfront Resort on Friday for a special Easter event filled with activities that involve touch.

"It's at events like this, [the community] gets to meet our kids and learn that a disability doesn't really make a difference," said Kimberly Neuhauser, the center's president and executive director.

The Blind Children's Learning Center is a nonprofit school in North Tustin for blind and visually impaired children geared to prepare them to be successful in school and on through life.

About a quarter of the school's population are sighted children that help their peers learn how to socialize and play while learning about leadership and compassion, she said.

At the Easter event the children were paired with a student from Back Bay High School, an alternative school in Costa Mesa, for activities and lunch.

The children got to pet live bunnies, touch and feel the Easter bunny, have lunch, and decorate a basket with paper and fake flowers, ribbon, stickers, fluffy balls, Easter eggs, candy and Peeps.

The tactile activities keep the kids interest because they can touch and feel their surroundings, said Sharon Mitchael, the center's youth services coordinator.

For Back Bay junior Savannah, the event was a chance for her to interact with someone visually impaired for the first time and really think about what life is like for them.

"It was really cool," she said. "I kind of put myself in their position. When I was walking with [Maya], I just imagined what it would be like if I couldn't see."

Teacher Michael Wagner, who accompanied the students, told them about how he volunteered to take a deaf child to the fair, an experience that has stuck with him.

"Hopefully they'll get the same experience from this that I got out of that," he said.

Newport Dunes has been inviting the children to different events for years and supports them financially through an ongoing fundraising program, said Andrew Theodorou, the Dunes' vice president and general manager.

The resort donates $1 to the center for every night booked at the RV park and is expected to donate about $20,000 this year.

"We just feel they're part of the family, and it's great to have them," Theodorou said.

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