MAY 5, 2018 – It was a cool spring evening this past Saturday night, when a white limousine rolled up to the doors of the St. Bartholomew’s Church in Scotch Plains. The night’s theme song, Coldplay’s “A Sky Full of Stars”, played on the speakers as the limousine door opened, and a jeweled heel stepped onto the red carpet. As the special guests exited the car with their buddies, a group of volunteers, friends and family flanked the red carpet and applauded their arrival while welcomers placed crowns and tiaras on each guest. The limo quietly slipped away and rounded the corner to pickup the next set of guests, for what would be the first of several dozen trips of grand entrances.
Each guest was paired with a high school teen buddy who volunteered to accompany prom guests throughout the night to ensure a fun and safe prom experience from limousine ride to eating dinner, to dancing all night. Every teenager attending the Special Needs Prom on May 5th enjoyed the same special Star celebrity entrance accompanied by the night’s energetic and uplifting theme song. The teens’ faces upon exiting their limo ranged from shy smiles to proud grins, and parents reflected the same enthusiasm for their children as they welcomed them to prom. Earlier in the day, teens and adults volunteered as a “Glam Squad” to help partipacting prom guests prepare with hair, makeup and nails.
As the teens and their buddies exited the elevator leading to the St. Bart’s Church gymnasium, they were met with table cards and photobooth opportunities. While some teens smiled and made silly faces with their friends at the photobooth, others entered the gymnasium which had been transformed into a magical scene strung full of twinkling lights and festive, star decorations.
Gold and black ribbons adorned every chair and a giant star made of balloons arched above the DJ as music blared into the room. Guests danced to modern hits and jigged to classics like the The Village People’s YMCA, Cotton Eye Joe,and Electric Slide. Philip Acosta, the MC for the night and also a Berkeley Heights Governor Livingston High School teacher, led and encouraged teens to karaoke along with hit songs like Pharrell Williams’ Happy and Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’.
A sit down dinner was donated generously by Chick-fil-A, while the Chick-fil-A mascot, a Holstein cow dressed in a suit, made an appearance to dance and take pictures with prom guests. Prom family members also enjoyed dinner and fellowship in the cafeteria as their teens attended prom in the gymnasium. The delightful evening ended with a heartfelt Parent Child dance. Parents and guardians joined their teens on the dance floor and waltzed with their children in their arms, with nothing but love in their eyes.
The extraordinary evening was made possible by a team comprised of volunteers as well as staff from the Berkeley Heights YMCA (a branch of the Summit Area YMCA), St. Bartholomew Church of Scotch Plains and Fanwood-Scotch Plains YMCA. With 6 months of planning, the team tirelessly prepared and engaged with community members and sponsors to provide a night to remember for teens living with special needs. Sponsors included Action Limousine, Chick-fil-A, Pantagis Renaissance, Apple Blossom Flower Shop, Hall’s Garden Center & Florist, Taylor Rental, Gennaro’s, St. Bart’s Moms Group, Scotch Plains-Fanwood Newcomers and Neighbors, Nick’s Pizza, L’Oreal, My Little Party Place Children’s Parties & Events, Katie Party Shop, and The Dessert Ladies Group.
The Berkeley Heights YMCA, St. Bartholomew Church and Fanwood-Scotch Plains YMCA have a shared commitment to serving the community. “Both of our organizations were offering opportunities for kids with special needs. Many of the same families were taking advantage of both of our programs and it made sense for us to partner together to expand what we were offering,” said Lisa McQuilkin, Wellness Director of the Berkeley Heights YMCA. “We started off with Friday Fun Night events once a month for high school students, which are evenings where teens with special needs could gather for games, activities, arts and crafts, or outings. From those events grew the idea for a prom. With the help of many volunteers and sponsors, we were able to create a magical night for the kids and their families. It was so rewarding to see the smiles on everyone’s faces from the teens to the parents. It was truly a night to remember.”
“Thank you to all those involved who made this prom a night to remember. The evening was magical and my son's joy—priceless!" —Jan J.
“The prom was a truly an amazing event. Every detail was so well-thought out. The volunteers were all wonderful. Seeing the smiles on the guest's faces was very touching. My son had a great night!” —Diane M.
“Paul's night to be a star at his first prom was an unforgettable experience! This was a night for him to experience the joy that teenagers everywhere feel as their night begins when they enter their first limo ride! We will never forget Paul's gigantic smile as he walked the red carpet to be welcomed by a cheering crowd that showed him you are loved and accepted just as you are. The happiness had no bounds as they danced the night away with their friends and the amazing "dates" that made sure not a single experience of a prom was missed! As his parents, we were so moved that there was not a single detail that was not thought of for their own prom night! We are eternally grateful to the team of people who made this night happen!” —Susan D.
St. Bartholomew Church, pastored by Father John Paladino, is an inclusive parish that provides programs for the community, special needs families, the elderly, poor, sick and homeless. Elaine Coupe, Community Outreach Director, first partnered with the Summit Area YMCA to start the “Friday Teen Fun Night” program.
“With the success of the Friday Teen Fun Night program, I saw the possibility of a bigger event.” said Elaine. “It has always been my dream to host a prom for this special group of young adults. Our “dream team” of Y staff, Church Staff and volunteers made it happen. The community stepped up in so many ways with everything being donated for the night, sponsorships and volunteers. I was most impressed by the highschool teens who were engaged from the moment they met with their guest to the end of the night. It gives me hope for our future. It was also important that the families know that St. Bartholomew supports them and partners with them in their endeavors. I believe everyone that was involved was changed by this night. It was a magical night that I will always hold dear in my heart, until we do it again next year!”
The Summit Area YMCA and Fanwood-Scotch Plains YMCA are focused on youth development, healthy living and social responsibility.
As a member of the Diversity, Inclusion and Global Innovation Network, the Summit Area YMCA is committed to bridge building and encouraging a welcoming atmosphere within the community. The Y is made up of people from all walks of life who are joined together by a shared commitment to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to learn, grow and thrive. Supporting families and the community in their efforts to spread awareness, appreciation for diversity and a sense of inclusivity for everyone in the community is core to the Y’s mission to help every individual reach their highest potential.
With the success of the Sundays in Motion program at the Summit YMCA (a 2 hour open gym and swim time), the Summit Area YMCA has increased the number of offerings, programs and classes for individuals with special needs. From Adaptive Swim Lessons at the Summit YMCA to Yoga classes and special exercise events at the Berkeley Heights YMCA, from Special Needs Summer Camps to the Friday Fun Night collaborations with St. Bart’s, the expansion of Special Needs programming within the Summit Area YMCA and its community partners has been met with appreciative and positive feedback.
To learn more about programming for individuals with special needs, please visit www.theSAY.org/specialneeds
To learn more about upcoming events, please visit www.thesay.org/calendar
About the St. Bartholomew and the Apostle Church
We, the Roman Catholic Community of St. Bartholomew the Apostle Church, are brought together by Jesus, as we recognize His presence among us in Word, Sacrament and eachother. Through the grace of the Holy Spirit and the intercession of the Blessed Mother, we accept Jesus’ invitation to be His Disciples by using our time, talent and treasure for the benefit of all. Our doors are open to everyone. .
About the Summit Area YMCA
The Summit Area YMCA is one of the area’s leading 501(c)3 charitable organizations. Founded in 1886, the Summit Area YMCA has a history steeped in working side-by-side with our neighbors to ensure that everyone, regardless of age, income and background, has the opportunity to learn, grow and thrive. Each year, we serve more than 10,000 individuals with our free and fee-based programs and services in an area spanning the communities of Berkeley Heights, New Providence, Millburn, Springfield, Short Hills, Summit, Gillette, and Stirling. Through the generosity of our members, donors, and partners, we are able to offer financial assistance for our programs and services to those with demonstrated need. To strengthen your community and provide others with the opportunity to learn, grow, and thrive, make your tax-deductible donation today at www.theSAY.org/give.
About the Fanwood-Scotch Plains YMCA
The Fanwood-Scotch Plains YMCA is dedicated to improving the quality of life of the individuals, families and communities we serve through programs and services that build wholeness of spirit, mind and body. The YMCA is a not-for-profit organization founded on Christian principles, serving people of all ages, races, faith, cultures and socio-economic conditions.