FORT MEADE, Md. – In a significant departure from the last three years’ drive-thru format, the Joint Service Exceptional Family Member Program Holiday Party at McGill Training Center here marked a return to in-person celebrations.  

As a first effort to return to in-person events it was important to bring people together in a place with adequate space for those practicing social distancing to attend, as well as the families who still opted to use the drive-up option, said Liesa Jacobs, family support EFMP coordinator.  

“Several families commented on the location being ideal for the event,” she said.  

Perhaps more important than the location was the welcoming and inclusive nature of the event for all participants – those in close proximity, socially distanced, or participating as part of the drive-up crowd. 

“Often, our families express feelings of being judged when out in public . . .,” said Jacobs. “Seeing the staff being so festive and greeting them warmly, families expressed gratitude for the all-inclusive event dedicated to their special needs family.” 

“Having a night dedicated to just them means a lot,” she said.  

The children at the party were able to decorate wooden Christmas ornaments, construct Christmas tree photo frames and take part in Christmas sticker activity crafts.  Facepainting was available for young children and the young at heart while a photobooth – with props – was available to get the perfect selfie regardless of age.  

Refreshments of snow cones, cupcakes, cookies, crackers, clementines, as well as, fruit snacks, water and juice boxes were provided by the American Legion, United Services Organization and EFMP staff. 

Organizations specifically geared toward exceptional family members, such as the Autism Society of Maryland, were intermingled with booths and activities from the Severn Library, Military OneSource, Corvias Housing, the American Legion and others at the event to expose families to resources available in the area.  

Of course, the highlight of the evening was a visit from Santa Claus (Louis “Lou” Randle, Army Housing).  

Santa managed to hand out toys donated by United States Marine Corps Reserve’s Toys for Tots campaign. Those toys were wrapped and decorated by EFMP staff, ACS and Military Family Readiness Center volunteers, and each of the EFMP enrolled children who attended received a gift.     

The Joint Service EFMP Holiday Party exemplifies the dedication to inclusivity and support for families with exceptional needs that exist across all the military services. For more information on upcoming events or EFMP programs, contact Liesa Jacobs at or 301-677-5662/5590. 

Gloriann Martin, USAG Fort Meade Public Affairs