It was billed as “a night of music and dancing,” but turned out to be so much more.
People with special needs don’t always get to experience the milestones that others do, and that is exactly why one group decided to stage a prom just for them April 6. The first-time event, called PROM-US and put on by the Rotary Community Corps of Parker, was just like any other high school dance, but on a smaller scale. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t a big night.
Dates arrived hand in hand — one lucky fellow even had a lady on each arm — and corsages decorated the wrists of dozens of women in flowing gowns. The couples, and even those who came stag, beamed during their official prom photos. Hugs, high-fives and a few tender moments were exchanged. Then came the dancing, a let-loose, grab-your-friends-and-shake-it display that got the entire room jumping.
Parents and siblings, on hand to chaperone, were as consumed by happiness as their loved ones. Debby Schacht, of Parker, says that years ago, when the geneticist told her that her baby girl had a mentaldisability, one of the first thoughts to cross the young mom’s mind was that her daughter would not be able to attend prom. She looks back on that thought as inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, but Schacht can’t be faulted for wanting Hannah, now 16, to enjoy what is considered by most teens to be a momentous occasion in their young lives.
So, when a friend’s son, who happens to have the exact same disability, asked Hannah to prom, mom and daughter had the chance to go through the painstaking preparations together. Schacht wore a proud smile all night, and when asked what it was like to witness her daughter having the time of her life at prom, she responded: “Really, pure joy.”
The evening was a pleasant surprise for organizers, who greeted 25 more special-needs attendees than expected, and nearly 70 total. The free event was made possible by a handful of sponsors, a generous DJ and host venue Parker United Methodist Church. The church’s pastor, Randy Jessen, and his wife, Sue, were happy to donate the space. They, too, have a daughter with special needs, and hosting PROM-US was an obvious choice.
“This is just so much fun, isn’t it?!” Jessen exclaimed over the loud music, shortly before Paul Triggs was crowned king and Caroline Smith was named prom queen to wild applause.
The prom attracted individuals with special needs from Parker, Castle Rock, Highlands Ranch and Aurora, among other south metro towns. It was such a rousing success that there are already plans to make it an annual event.
“We couldn’t be more pleased,” said Kam Breitenbach, organizer for the community corps.
The Rotary community corps is designed for those age 15 and up with special needs to “become active in their community, learn leadership skills, feel like a vital part of their community, become socially active and give back to their community,” the group says.