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Eddie's Club Brings Peers Together Through Volunteerism

Volunteer-based organization works to pair buddies with disabilities and without.

Throughout the year, select Sundays at are seldom a quiet scene.

Kids are hammering nails into Christmas crafts for their parents, jamming out on mini keyboards, singing along to karaoke, playing Connect Four shrieking with delight, or shooting hoops in the gym.

It’s about three weeks before Christmas and this is the scene six times a year when Eddie’s Club takes up residence at the Springfield, VA, middle school.

Eddie’s Club is a volunteer-based non-profit organization for kids ages 4 – 21 that have any form of disability. There are few clubs like it in the Northern Virginia area; where kids, teens and young adults with and without disabilities can get together for a few hours on a Sunday for some social and recreational time away from family.

Run by Eddie Garretson, the club’s namesake and a Woodbridge native who recently relocated to Springfield, the program hosts nearly 100 buddies and volunteers.

“Eddie’s Club is specifically designed for special needs kids and their families to have respite care,” explained Garretson’s daughter Logan Bruno during a volunteer briefing session before the buddies arrived. “We run our program because there is not a whole lot designed for socialization for these kids. It’s tough.”

The club is based solely on volunteer support. With a staff of about 10 adult volunteers, the club runs smoothly and for Garretson it is a family venture. His mother, Maddie Garretson – known affectionately by the buddies as “Grammy” – is deeply involved in the group as well.

Volunteers come from all over Northern Virginia, including Dale City, Burke, Annandale and Fairfax.

The goal of Eddie’s Club is, in the words of Bruno “make sure they have the best day ever.” The ratio is typically two non-challenged volunteers to one challenged buddy; siblings are invited to attend but are not paired with their family as an opportunity for everyone to meet someone new.

Eddie’s Club receives financial support from the United Way and the Combined Federal Campaign, as well as other donors.

The program runs without advertisement, said Garretson. Schools, scout groups, churches and other organizations throughout the area that require teens to have volunteer and community service hours know of Eddie’s Club and send their students to the program.

Although for some buddies it may be their first time at Eddie’s Club, some friendships are forged over the years through the same pairing of peers. At 2 p.m. one Sunday, the line of challenged buddies starts in the cafeteria and goes all the way to the school’s front door.  Over the next 30 minutes, Eddie’s Club staff members pair off buddies until the last few people trickle in.

That’s when the fun begins.

The cafeteria quickly becomes abuzz with board games, arts and crafts, laughter and conversation. Elsewhere in the school, girls are chatting over nail polish, boys are gathered at the Wii system and others are building to their heart’s content with blocks.

Eddie’s Club also offers events throughout the community for their kids, teens and young adults to participate in. Garretson said that the last event was a morning movie matinee at University Mall theaters in Fairfax City, rented out for the club’s disposal.

Events like bowling, teen and young adult socials, George Mason University basketball games and holiday parties are sprinkled throughout the calendar year. The group bowls at Bowl America in Burke, dances at Robert E. Lee High School and dines at Magill’s Famous Pizza Restaurant in Annandale.

For families with special needs children, the community Eddie’s Club creates is invaluable.   

Editor's Note: Information on how to volunteer with Eddie’s Club.

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