More than 40 teenagers and adults donned their finest attire on June 15 to attend the county’s first prom for special needs individuals.
Attendees came from across the county and surrounding areas, ranging in age from 15 to 72, to attend “A Red Carpet Affair.”
East Lincoln High School student Hanna Moolenaar served as the mastermind and lead planner for the event. During her sophomore year, she began working with the Special Olympics program for Lincoln County, befriending several of the athletic competitors. After attending her first prom in 2013, the rising senior wanted to share the festive experience with those who might not have had the opportunity to experience prom.
“I realized these kids with special needs would enjoy a prom where they can have fun and enjoy themselves,” Moolenaar said.
An active Girl Scout since the first grade, Moolenaar had begun brainstorming ideas for her Girl Scout Gold Award Project. High school participants are asked to identify an issue in their community or region. From there, they must research and develop a plan to solve the community problem, educating and inspiring others in the process.
“I knew I was eligible to start my Gold Award Project, and I thought, ‘Well, maybe I can do this to earn the award,’” she said. “I wanted to give these individuals an opportunity to enjoy a prom experience.”
Her efforts, along with the assistance of several local businesses, caretakers, family members and friends, culminated in the prom held at The Club at Westport in Denver. UMAR, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting community inclusion, independence and growth for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, was among the organizations Moolenaar invited.
“Hanna reached out to us to see if our residents would be interested in attending,” said Sarah Smith, UMAR’s marketing and communications manager.
Wanting to do something special for their residents at the UMAR Pitzer and Lincoln County Group Homes, every female resident attending the event received a donated prom dress from Devonda Friday, a 2011 “Extreme Home Makeover” recipient in Lincolnton. In addition, UMAR’s prom attendees also received a free makeover and hair styling by Sarah Lopez of the Paul Mitchell Beauty School in Gastonia.
Any teenager or adult with special needs was allowed to register. While the majority of those in attendance were able to supply their formal wear, Moolenaar assisted those who could not, acquiring donated and reduced-price prom dresses and tuxedos.
When the doors opened at 3 p.m., guests had the chance to pose for a classic prom photo. Friends of Moolenaar attended as well, posing as prom dates for the guests. Over the next hour, guests danced to a variety of music before sitting down for a formal dinner.
Moolenaar hopes this year’s event is the first of many special needs proms for Lincoln County.