Sherry Peele is a champion for the intellectually and developmentally disabled.
Since 2011, she has organzied the JoyProm, which led to her founding a nonprofit, Joyful Hearts in 2013. She plans six events throughout the year but JoyProm will always be special for her and the volunteers.
As the limousines, filled with excited guests, lined up outside of Jay M. Robinson High School on March 21, Peele could be heard above the loud music, introducing each attendee by name before they walked the red carpet leading into the school.
The prom is open to those with disabilities who are high school age and older, along with any family members who would like to attend. Even though this year’s theme was Western, many participants still chose to wear the fancy dresses and suits you would see at any prom.
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Almost 400 volunteers made sure that the more than 1,000 attendees from across the country enjoyed the special night. As in years past, Hickory Ridge High School culinary arts department chopped vegetables for the buffet and Central Cabarrus High Air Force JROTC students came in their dress uniforms to act as escorts to walk attendees into the school.
A large group of volunteers lined the red carpet, yelling the participant’s name, waving posters, giving high fives and taking pictures to enhance the experience.
First-year volunteer Martha Matthews said it won’t be her last “Because I am getting more enjoyment out of this than they are,” she said, waving a sign with “You are Awesome” printed on it in colorful block letters.
Each guest was treated to a buffet dinner and a chance for a formal picture before they headed out to the dance floor. David Farris and many of the guests were enjoying line dances to songs like “YMCA” when Kendal Carrick, 15, in a fancy, light blue prom dress wanted to be more prom-likeand dance as a couple.
She started by doing a fast dance with Tyler Deaton, who was dressed in a cowboy hat, red shirt and jeans. Kendal was singing to Deaton as they danced when she noticed Demarion Fleming, 21, dressed in a suit and tie, dancing nearby.
During the next break she approached Fleming and asked his name. “Do you want to dance with me?” Kendal asked. “Sure,” said Fleming as they both exchanged a shy smile. The song “We Found Love Right Where We Are” started playing as Fleming offered his hand.
The two interlocked their fingers, put their arms around each other and began swaying to the music. At one point Kendal asked Fleming, “Do you want to spin me?” Fleming just smiled and twirled her around the dance floor as the music played, with flashing green and red lights illuminating their faces.
As soon as the next song started, the two separated and started dancing a little faster as more dancers joined them. The two stayed together for a few more dances, only getting separated when the line dancing started back up.
Peele said that providing a prom for the young adults who don’t go to their high school proms – because they don’t feel included, due to their limitations – makes for lasting memories for her, the participants and their families.
Peele said her favorite part of JoyProm is the red carpet entrance.
“Seeing the smiles and the pure joy of the family as they watch their special person walk the red carpet to the cheers and applause from the crowd is so heartwarming. Everything we do throughout the year is supported by the community through donations and volunteering at our events.”
“We want everyone in the community to see that people with special needs are just like you and I,” Peele said. “They have a heart and feelings .... We want them to be loved and cared for like everyone else.”
Marty Price is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Marty? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.