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Contributed photo by Wesley Mayes of Signal Centers / Volunteers gather to put together baskets for the silent auction to be held during the Friends of Special Children's upcoming fundraiser benefiting Signal Centers.

Every September for 14 years, members of Friends of Special Children have gathered to pack attractive baskets filled with items to be sold at the group's annual ABC (short for "all 'bout children") dinner and auction.

The group, which aims to better the lives of children of all abilities, has grown from seven to around 30 members since its founding, said Lynn Reese, a charter member and the group's current president.

The goal of each ABC event is to raise money to fund a specific project at Signal Centers, a nonprofit organization that helps people with disabilities and other challenges achieve independence. Over the years, the ABC fundraiser has upgraded the organization's aging facility through various projects and additions such as a gym and a playground for people of all abilities, with each project ranging in cost from $100,000-$200,000, said Reese.

This year, the Friends' goal is to improve safety and reduce traffic at the facility by building a gated entrance at a cost of $125,000.

Around 100 children ranging in age from 6 months to 6 years are served by the center, which offers learning through play, social and emotional support, and developmental therapies in order to help them gain independence and reach their full potential.

Currently, those children are transported to Signal Centers by their caregivers' personal vehicles or on one of five buses, and all arrive around the same time to the facility's main entrance, located just off a busy city street. This causes traffic to bottleneck and, most importantly, leads to safety concerns for the children.

Funds raised through this year's event will go toward providing a secure gateway and safe entrance to the Signal Centers campus. In addition to improving safety and traffic flow, the new entrance will expand parking and provide a covered area to keep children dry when dropped off at the facility.

"It will be a much safer way to get kids in and out of the building," said Russ Blakely, who along with his wife Tracie is chairing this year's event. "Every dollar goes right back here. Everyone donates their time and their gifts for the children, putting in that effort so all the money goes to [Signal Centers]."

Tickets to the event are $50 per person, the same price it's been since the beginning, Reese said. But now, rather than doing the cooking themselves, the Friends have the dinner catered by Goetz. Ice cream from Ben & Jerry's will be served as well, along with beer from Naked River Brewing Co.

The event is known for its highly desirable silent auction items, which are packed in themed baskets ideal for gifting. The auction includes items for women, men and children, along with home goods, jewelry and more.

Held in a tent by the playground on the Signal Centers campus, the fundraiser is set for Thursday, Oct. 3 from 5:30-7:30 p.m.

For more information or to purchase tickets, visit friendsofspecialchildren.org. Signal Centers is at 109 N. Germantown Road.

Email Emily Crisman at ecrisman@timesfreepress.com.

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