Special memories and moments are the goal at the annual prom for special need students provided by the Lake Norman High School Friends 4 Change Club, a club that promotes inclusiveness by students with and without special needs.
For Moorseville High School seniors Jennifer Carroll, 19 and Alex Heredeen, 20, the sixth annual Friends 4 Change prom, with a carnival theme, on April 13, was special and it wasn’t because of the challenges they both face because of Down syndrome.
Boyfriend and girlfriend for a little longer than 2 1/2 years, this was the couple’s second prom, and their last, as they would be graduating this year. After their grand entry to cheers from the student volunteers the couple made their way to the dance floor.
With a fast song playing, Carroll wanted to savor the moment with a hug. Heredeen quickly obliged with a big smile, but quickly reminded her they were there to dance as he joyfully made some of his best dance moves at the Charles Mack Citizen Center in Mooresville.
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Grayson Baker, 17, Josh Bernadel, 18, and Korina Kempthorn, 18, have worked together for the past three years, as the club’s three co-presidents, organizing the event. Bernadel said that one of the biggest obstacles is the timing. It has to be during a weekday, when caregivers can help transport the students.
“That usually means having it during the spring break,” he said.
Bernadel said that being president of the club has opened his eyes.
“Not only has it made me gain respect for a lot of these students with special needs, but it’s also made me realize that these kids are no different from us and that we are equal, the same exact person.”
He admits that the day is for these students but he gets a lot out of it as well. “Just seeing their face glowing up and realizing that all the attention is on them is definitely really warming inside,” said Bernadel.
Having served about 300 guests last year, Bernadel said they expected 318, with students coming from every high school in Iredell County, including Lake Norman and Mooresville. More than 45 club members were on hand to make sure the students had a dance partner, if needed, and someone to share the experience with.
To go with the carnival theme, cotton candy machines, games, prizes, a fun photo booth and DJ with light show kept the students entertained for hours. Bernadel said local restaurants made sure that the celebrants had plenty to eat.
During a break from dancing, asked why their relationship had lasted so long, Carroll, who had been voted homecoming queen earlier this year, said, “He is cool and funny.” Heredeen replied, “She is so funny and talented, I really love her and she is really cute.”
Melanie Greenwheel, their teacher at Mooresville High School, said the couple are treated like celebrities. Carroll was voted homecoming queen her freshman year as well. “This school system is very inclusive, loving and open to all the kids,” said Greenwheel.
Realizing this would be the last prom he would organize, Bernadel said, “I’ve also loved seeing the smiles and the life-changing, life-long relationships that I have made with some of these kids, that I’ll miss next year when I go off to college.”
Mary Price is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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