FORT RILEY, Kan. - More than 90 Fort Riley Families got a taste of the Holiday season early this year during the Exceptional Family Member and New Parent Support Programs' Holiday Celebration Dec. 9 at Riley's Conference Center. The celebration was sponsored by both programs, as well as the Junction City Optimist Club.

Upon their arrival, Family members were treated to a buffet-style meal, served by food and beverage attendants from Riley's Conference Center, as well as Army Community Service employees. Each table at the event was decorated with a green and red festive table cloth, with a lighted votive candle as the centerpiece.

While awaiting Santa's arrival, the Families were entertained by Christmas songs played on a nearby baby grand piano, as well as with holiday arts and craft activities.

While Staff Sgt. Ed Brown, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 541st Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, worked diligently on making paper snowmen with his three daughters, Emerald, 8, Ashlan, 6, and Alyssia, 2, his wife Amanda said the Family came out to the event to get into the holiday spirit.

"We thought it would be something fun to do for the holidays," Amanda said. "We are away from Family, and this was another way to get into the holiday spirit when you're far from home."

Another parent sitting nearby, Susan Haley, intently watched her son, Tom, 6, create a blue snowflake ornament. Susan said she takes Tom, who has an autism spectrum disorder, to all of EFMP's events, affectionately referring to the program's events as the kid meetings.

"I call these the kid meetings because these are the meetings we get to go to see friends and relax. He loves it and I think Laurie (McCauley) and (the rest of) them do a fabulous job," Susan said. "Even the parents can relax here, because you are in a room full of Families who all understand - not only do you have a Soldier who is deployed, but you're all in the Army and everybody is special here. You don't have to worry if your kid is freaking out. This is a very relaxed environment."

Since moving to Fort Riley last year, Susan said the support the Family has received for Tom, both with the school district and the military, has been amazing.

"It's amazing what they did for him. He's getting civilian and Army support," she said. Along with the meal, children's activities, entertainment and Santa's visit, each child attending the celebration received an age-appropriate Christmas gift, courtesy of Operation Santa Claus.

"We had a very nice turnout," said Toiane Taylor, lead social worker for NPSP. "The Families are socializing together. Some of them know each other and are sitting together. Some of them made new acquaintances while being here. I think it has gone really well."