SOUTH PHILADELPHIA (WTXF) - Santino's Dragons, a non-profit working to empower kids with special needs, is getting ready to strut their stuff at the Mummers Parade.
Karen and Pat Sferra help their 18-year-old son Christopher try on his dragon costume. He’s one of about 19 children with autism or other special needs who will strut their stuff in the Mummers Parade on New Year's Day.
"It's a big year. It's never been done before and we're going to do it and we're going to have a ball doing it," said Karen. The children belong to a group called Santino's Dragons. It's a non-profit to help empower them and bring awareness. Last year they attended the Fancy Brigade walk-through at the Convention Center. Christopher got a standing ovation dancing for the crowd.
Karen gets emotional thinking about that day.
"He's been through hell and he's here and he's making everybody happy," she cried. That night the idea for Santino's Dragons to be part of the Mummers Parade was born.
Lisa and Mario Stagliano started the group three years ago for their 13-year-old son Santino who has autism. They took the idea to the Mummers. They said yes.
"They're just so thrilled to be a part of such beautiful tradition and be treated as equals," said Lisa. The Stagliano family used to leave their South Philly home every New Year Day because their son couldn't handle it.
"Just the large crowds, the noise and the lights were very overwhelming," said Lisa.
Their routine theme for the parade is a message about children with special needs.
"A knight and a dragon fighting at first. They're both warriors. They're the same but basically hate each other and it doesn’t make much sense. So in the end they realize that and they learn to accept each other," said Lisa.
"Who would have ever thought that we would have a group of special needs kids marching in the Mummers Day Parade and hopefully next year we'll be our own brigade," said Karen.
The parents say this is the first year that a group of special needs children will play a major role in the parade. They don’t care if they don’t win. They just want their kids to have fun.