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Easter Seals And Audubon Aquarium Providing Special Opportunity To Kids With Special Needs

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Jason Saul
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WWNO

The Audubon Aquarium of the Americas is closed on Mondays.

It’s a day to dust off from the press of thousands — to replace lightbulbs, install equipment and polish off inquisitive little nose prints on both sides of the glass.

And sometimes, thanks to Easter Seals Louisiana and a special program at the Aquarium, the darkened halls are also filled with soft laughter, from throats that haven’t had occasion to laugh as much as most.

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Credit Jason Saul / WWNO
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WWNO
Getting an introduction to Audubon's African Blackfooted and Southern Rockhopper penguins from Darwin Long, the Aquarium's Senior Aviculturist.

Easter Seals Louisiana — a nonprofit dedicated to assisting children and adults with autism and with physical and mental development issues — has partnered with Audubon to bring five young people each month behind the scenes of the Aquarium… and introduce them to some endangered penguins.

[Full disclosure: For the past two years I have served on the board of the Easter Seals Louisiana fundraising gala.]

Cradling a penguin in your arms — with their at-once slick but fluffy feathers, and sweet dispositions — is a singular experience, made even more so by the grins that broke across the faces of the four young people I joined on a recent Monday.

“Anyone in the Greater New Orleans Area with special needs can sign up online if they'd like to participate,” says Dominique Ellis, Marketing and Communications Director for Easter Seals Louisiana. “We're so proud to be partnering with the Audubon Nature Institute.”

You can learn more about the Easter Seals’ free program — for people in the Greater New Orleans area between the ages of 5 and 25 with diagnosed disabilities — on the organization’s website.

The Audubon Aquarium’s Backstage Penguin Pass is amazing (with or without the kids), and anyone can buy tickets. Learn more about it here.

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Credit Jason Saul / WWNO
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WWNO
9-year-old Ava Jane Irvine has cerebral palsy and epilepsy and is confined to a wheelchair. Here she is meeting Bunny, a Southern Rockhopper penguin.
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Credit Jason Saul / WWNO
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WWNO
Christine LaGarde and Bunny.
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Credit Jason Saul / WWNO
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WWNO
After getting the chance to meet the penguins up close, it's time to visit the penguin habitat. Bunny flies off (with a little help) to lead the way.
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Credit Jason Saul / WWNO
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WWNO
Sassafras, an endangered African Blackfooted penguin, leads the second half of the group.

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Credit Jason Saul / WWNO
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WWNO
The Audubon Aquarium of the Americas is now closed on Mondays, but opens once a month for this special tour.
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Credit Jason Saul / WWNO
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WWNO
Audubon is a breeding facility for endangered penguins.

  

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Credit Jason Saul / WWNO
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WWNO
The kids who could make the climb then got to go into the penguin exhibit itself.
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Credit Jason Saul / WWNO
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WWNO
9-year-old Scott Swenson is normally non-verbal, but his excitement was infectious nonetheless.
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Credit Jason Saul / WWNO
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WWNO
People in the Greater New Orleans area between the ages of 5 and 25 with diagnosed disabilities are encouraged to apply for the monthly tour on the Easter Seals website.

Jason Saul served as WWNO's Director of Digital Services. In 2017 he took a position at BirdNote, in Seattle.