On Saturday, about 20 local students dressed in sharp black tuxedos and glittering gowns walked into a medieval castle, followed an entryway accented by purple and yellow shields and stepped into their high school prom.
And while for most teenagers prom is guaranteed right of passage, for those who are developmentally challenged, like those who attended Saturday’s celebrations, it was an unexpected moment to remember.
“Just seeing the joy not just on the kids’ faces but on their parents’ faces as well is just so amazing,” said Keith Colton, coordinator for Student Leadership, Involvement, and Community Engagement.
Colton, who helped set up the prom and organize Saturday’s university-wide community service project CSUnity, said that most of the parents who dropped their children off at the Respite Care Center for disabled students thought their children would never have the chance to go to prom.
Throughout Saturday morning CSU students from Associated Students of CSU, the College of Business Management Club and the Colorado Business Alumni group gathered at the Respite Care Center in Fort Collins to help set up for the event. They joined with Thank Goodness Its Friday to execute the evening’s celebrations.
Members of TGIF, a branch of SLiCE designed to connect local special needs high school students with CSU students, were responsible for designing and executing the dance. TGIF members frequently go out on Friday nights with their special needs friends and enjoy local entertainment such as bowling or going to the movies.
TGIF members provided their “dates” with a corsage or a boutonniere, later traversing to a smaller room set up for taking the ever-so-memorable prom picture.
The decorations surrounding the Respite Care Center reflected the theme: Enchanted Knights. With the help of CSU students, the center was transformed into a medieval castle with pseudo-firelights lining the entranceway and purple and yellow shields hanging from the walls.
“Set up was a lot of fun,” said Chris Brown, a sophomore history major, who participated in setting up as a member of ASCSU and then later returned that night to be someone’s “date” as a member of TGIF. “I don’t think my own prom was this good.”
TGIF’s coordinator Kelsey Paul, a junior human development and family studies major planned the prom.
“I just fell in love with the kids,” said Paul when asked how she first became involved in the program.
The Respite Care Center normally works as a daycare center for special needs children from ages 0 to 21. On this particular night, however, it paired with TGIF to create a prom for teens who often feel out of place at their own high school proms.
This is only the second year TGIF has held a prom for special needs teens, but it has been so popular in the past that participation more than doubled from last year event leaders said.
“I feel like they’ve really gotten the short end of the stick in life,” said Katie Ramsdell, a junior business major. “But they’re some of the happiest people I’ve ever met.”
Staff writer Ashley Robinson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.