Spring Bling in Hollywood provides a prom for high school students with intellectual disabilities.
For the past five years, students in the Friends 4 Change club at Lake Norman High School have been hosting Spring Bling – a prom for area students with intellectual disabilities. The club promotes inclusiveness within the student body, “breaking barriers to set a positive example that everyone is equal,” said co-president Grayson Baker, 16.
When Baker was elected in 2014-2015 school year, along with co-presidents Korina Kempthorn, 17 and Josh Bernadel, 17, the club had about 25 to 30 members. The three sophomores vowed to making the club and the prom better for their fellow students.
Under their watch, the club has swelled to about 250 members while turning the prom into a Special Olympics Project UNIFY event in 2015 and 2016. Project UNIFY is a program created by Special Olympics to build inclusive environments for youth with and without intellectual disabilities while empowering them to become leaders.
With the help of Project UNIFY, this year, for the first time, the prom – with a Hollywood theme – was held off campus, at the Charles Mack Citizen Center in Mooresville. Keeping true to the trio’s goal of making it bigger and better, the club invited students from the five Iredell-Statesville District Schools, while adding Mooresville High School to the invitees.
On March 24, about 100 intellectually disabled students enjoyed a prom with 150 of their peers who volunteered to make the day special. Each attendee arrived to cheers as they were escorted to the dance floor, full of happy teenagers dancing to the music under the flashing colored lights.
Bernadel said, “Prom 2016 was exquisite in so many ways. Watching our fellow classmates walk into the room was probably one of the best moments of it all. It was amazing seeing what our club could do to create such a memorable day for everyone.”
Daniel Carrillo, 19, a member of the Unify for Change club at Statesville High School, was being pulled by an anxious Shea Dominy, 16, while a more reserved Kaitlyn Waksman, 16, was holding him back as the three made their entrance.
Carillo said he liked the idea of escorting the two classmates. “They deserve to have fun and enjoy their prom.”
Every detail was carefully thought out. For some of the participants travel over the weekends is not an option, so they planned the prom for the middle of the day, on a Thursday, to ensure the students would have transportation.
The participants’ attire ranged from casual to formal to downright extravagant as they enjoyed a buffet, had formal prom pictures made and enjoyed time with their peers. The volunteers made sure no one danced alone, unless they preferred it that way, and gathered around anyone who wanted to go full “Hollywood” and dance solo in the middle of a circle of friends.
Kempthorn said the club has other events year round but this is their biggest. “It is amazing to see all the people come together for this,” she said. “This is a life changing experience. To give the opportunity for the children to have a regular teen experience, outside of their day-to-day problems, it pays back ten-fold,” she said.
Marty Price is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lake Norman High School hosted Mooresville, Statesville, North Iredell, South Iredell and West Iredell high school students with intellectual disabilities for the fifth Annual Spring Bling.
For information on Project UNIFY go to: http://sonc.net/project-unify-schools/project-unify-overview/.