Chocolate Fantasia raises funds for sensory equipment for special needs students

By BRITTANY FHOLER 
Cove Leader-Press 

The Five Hills Scholarship Pageant hosted the inaugural Chocolate Fantasia at the Copperas Cove Civic Center Friday evening, featuring art made by Copperas Cove Independent School District Special Education students and chocolates made by S.C. Lee Junior and Copperas Cove High School culinary arts students. 
The event was organized by Preteen Miss Five Hills Romella Spitzer, with proceeds from the event going to fund the purchase of sensory equipment for Special Education students. Spitzer presented a check for $1,300, made just through online ticket sales, to staff members of CCISD’s Special Education program, during the event. Factoring in raffle ticket sales and other donations, more than $2,125 was raised for the purchase of calming sensory equipment for CCISD Special Education students. 
Spitzer held a lemonade stand during last year’s Lemonade Day and earned more than $200 that she used to purchase the art supplies, from the paint to the brushes and sponges and canvases, for the students to use to create their own masterpiece. 
Spitzer’s platform of service as Preteen Miss Five Hills is autism awareness. Spitzer chose her platform because her older sister, Samantha, has autism. She said she noticed how the sensory equipment helped her sister out back when they lived in Virginia and wanted something similar for students in Copperas Cove. 
The idea for the art walk was Spitzer’s but Volunteer Pageant Director Wendy Sledd came up with the idea of pairing a chocolate tasting with the art. Sledd said that Spitzer had been busy planning this event for months now. 
Guests were given the opportunity to try eight flavors of chocolates as they viewed 24 different art pieces. Raffle tickets were available to buy for a chance to enter to win and take home one of the art pieces. 
The flavors of chocolate included banana cream chocolate truffles, buttercream-filled chocolate bonbons, caramel filled milk chocolate hearts, chocolate covered coconut balls, lemon cream-filled chocolate bon bons, red velvet fudge and triple chocolate espresso truffles. 
“I’m very happy,” Spitzer said about the event. “It’s not how I expected it. It’s even better. I just love it!”
Each Special Education student artist and their families received a free ticket for the event, according to Sledd. 
One of the featured artists was five-year-old Julius Robinson, who attends Martin Walker Elementary. Robinson has an extremely rare disease called CTNNB1 Syndrome, which has only 200 cases known worldwide. CTNNB1 is a generally non-inherited genetic neurological disorder that begins to display itself in missed milestones or developmental delays in early infancy. Robinson is one of only a few children in Texas known to have the disease. 
The foundation for the disease was created a few years ago, and there is no known cure for the disease, but Robinson is a fighter, according to his parents, David and Marlena Robinson. Robinson has also been diagnosed has having severe non-verbal autism. 
“Right now, it’s just kind of like a day-by-day thing with him, but each day, he gets stronger and does something new,” Marlena said. “I guess you could say he’s defying all odds from when he was born.”
Robinson used his fingers to finger paint on the canvas, according to Marlena, and had a great time. 
“He really enjoyed it, and just seeing his work here with the other kids, it feels really good to see them being included in things like this, so it was really nice. It turned out really well.”
David said that the family really loved Julius and appreciated all of the families and people who put the event together. 
“At the end of the day, it’s a lot going on, and we just try to always have our faith and really just support Julius,” David said. “It’s really about the children.”
Marlena said that Julius enjoyed all of the chocolates, and David said he was “chocolate-wasted.” Marlena said her personal favorite was the lemon cream-filled chocolate bon bon. 
Shelby Martin teaches Culinary Arts at CCHS. She said that she was contacted by Sledd about the students providing chocolates a few months ago. 
Martin said she was all for it and wanted to get her students involved. While only a few of her students were at the actual event volunteering, all 45 of her students worked hard on the chocolates, making hundreds of the delicious treats. 
“They loved the idea of working with chocolate,” Martin said. 
Martin added that this also definitely helped with providing real world experience. 
“Bulk preparation is something that I would have to work with them a lot on,” Martin said. “We do some small-scale catering events within the school, but to make something like 200 of each kind of chocolate, which means we’ve got 800 different candies here, so it’s a much larger scale than they’re used to working on feeding our normal class of 15. It was, I think, a little overwhelming but a lot of them enjoyed the high pace and the more intense preparation involved.”
 

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