As a gym-goer walking into Berkeley Heights YMCA last Friday, you might have been surprised to see a sidewalk full of smiling teens in sparkling gowns, young men in suits adorning crowns, and paparazzi taking pictures of those stepping out of the party bus and onto the red carpet.
Not even the stars could outshine the night of May 5, 2023, when the Summit Area YMCA hosted its favorite event, the Extra Special Prom, now in its 4th year, hosted in partnership with Summit Elks Lodge #1246. Decorated in theme for spring, the Y welcomed 57 students with special needs ages 13-25, from Union, Morris, Somerset, and Middlesex counties, 70 parents, and 160 volunteers to the Berkeley Heights YMCA for an unforgettable prom experience and true example of what the Y is all about.
To kick off the event, the women’s locker room was briefly transformed into a full-blown salon thanks to Ateliers 113 Hair Salon & Spa, who provided a few special students with complimentary hair and makeup to prepare for their prom look. Adams Fine Clothing also participated in the preparty by donating suits to students in need, so they too could feel confident in their threads.
Upon check-in, the prom’s stylish guests received corsages and boutonnieres from Anything Floral and were then paired up with a buddy who helped ensure a safe and enjoyable experience for all, by accompanying and assisting their guests through the events activities. Thanks to DJ’s Limousine Service, donated by Zak DeOssie, our guests were escorted back to the red-carpet after a spin in a party bus where the paparazzi awaited their arrival.
As they made their red-carpet debut, prom guests were honored with crowns and tiaras, courtesy of Elizabeth Fagan, before being greeted by an entourage to cheer them on like the true prom royalty they are. The gymnasium was completely transformed thanks to seating provided by Taylor Rentals and the creative work of J.P. Morgan staff and other volunteers who helped decorate with colorful flowers made by the students in the Berkeley Heights YMCA Childcare Center and the notably mesmerizing balloons graciously donated and created the Balloon Design Studio.
While making their grand entrance onto the dance floor with big smiles and pure confidence local DJ, Thoro, played cheerful music for everyone inside the Y to enjoy, even giving a few students a spin on the turntables themselves. In between sets and dancing the night away, Skyvy Photo Booths engaged guests with props and poses for photos and the music slowed for students to enjoy dinner. Meals were provided by community favorite and longtime Y supporter Delicious Heights, followed by an assortment of treats for dessert. As the students kept busy in the gymnasium, their 70 parents in attendance got a chance to relax in the parent lounge, enjoying dinner courtesy of Village Trattoria, revitalizing chair massages from Charlie Behm of NJ Workplace Massage, and socializing with other parents in a way they don't get to on a regular basis.
Guests also had the option of a Sensory Room, a safe, quiet, low light space to decompress if needed. Making your way there you would have been greeted by adorable and calming therapy dogs, dressed up in prom attire thanks to Creature Comfort Pet Therapy. As the night came to an end, everyone cleared the dance floor to allow a special slow dance between the students and their parents.
Mary Twill, representing the Summit Elks Lodge #1246, shared their appreciation of participating in such an extraordinary event and a promise to continue their involvement in future prom events. Summit Area YMCA's Director of Mission Advancement, Tiffany Escott, thanked all event committee members, attendees, volunteers, sponsors, and staff for an amazing evening, and the event closed with one last dance–queue the Village People. Departing guests left with big smiles and goodie bags filled with products and gift cards graciously donated by Beauty Counter, Magic Fountain, and Sweet Nothings.
One parent in attendance, Sara L. shared a thank you note after to the event organizers, “There is nothing I could think of that could have enhanced the evening. You all did an amazing job. No detail was missed. From the volunteers to the program, the food, the love, the safety (loved that volunteers were posted by the doors to outside and the bathrooms). The parents’ room was so nice. Loved the quick massage. The goodie bag was full of fun stuff. The balloons were so wonderful and whimsical. Honestly you get a ten out of ten. Thank you for all you did”.
The 2023 Extra Special Prom was a huge success, and the Summit Area YMCA is beyond grateful to for the enthusiastic support received from its 7 event committee members, 18 community partners and sponsors, over 160 volunteers, and incredible staff whom without, this event would not be possible.
“You can’t help but have the biggest smile on your face when you’re looking around watching it all unfold. It is super rewarding seeing kids letting loose, volunteers having fun, parents engaging with each other, everyone looking happy and fulfilled–that’s the inclusion we strive for. There are so many people of all ages and walks of life that come together to make this all happen, it truly encompasses the purpose of our mission at the Y,” said Haley Behm, Director of Marketing & Digital Operations at the Summit Area YMCA.
The Y extends a special thank you to event cosponsor the Summit Elks Lodge #1246, for their donations and assistance in helping make the night extra special. The Y would also like to thank the efforts of volunteer photographers, Donna Fisk, Matthew Lameo, Michelle Moon, and Mindy Tao, who gifted their time and talents to capture this memorable evening. Last but not least, the Y is in appreciation of the support of the Berkeley Heights Rescue Squad whose presence ensured everyone’s safety in the event of an emergency.
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Paul Kieltyka, Summit Area YMCA’s President & CEO adds, “The Summit Area YMCA is so proud to serve as host for the Special Needs Prom. For these teens and their families, we created a magical experience that they will always remember, however, I am just as proud of the hundreds of volunteers, community partners and numerous donors who truly made this event as successful as it was. At the Y, we welcome ALL to our programs and services, and the Special Needs Prom is only a part of what we do every day to carry out this mission and impact”.
The Summit Area YMCA is committed to serving the community by creating safe and welcoming programs and spaces for all. 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.
The Special Needs Programs at the Summit Area YMCA are thoughtfully designed for youth with communication, social, behavioral, and learning differences to thrive in a safe, friendly, and supportive environment. Their mission being to encourage, help, build and strengthen healthy physical activity, confidence, social skills and more. Participants can enjoy a variety of activities that promote health, wellness, creative enrichment, socialization, and independence, like the free Fridays in Motion events hosted monthly at the Berkeley Heights YMCA & Summit YMCA. To learn more about Fridays in Motion and other special needs programs at the Y, please visit www.thesay.org/special-needs.
Want to get involved in the 2024 Extra Special Prom? Contact Summit Area YMCA's Director of Mission Advancement, Tiffany Escott at email@example.com.
In 1886, we were founded as the Young Men's Christian Association, but today, we are The Y. An association that values, and is made stronger by, its diverse people. We stand for youth development, healthy living and social responsibility — For a better us. We are committed to creating equal opportunity for all regardless of gender, age, disability, income, ethnicity, sexual orientation or religious affiliation. We strive to create a welcoming and inclusive culture in which our four core values — responsibility, honesty, caring and respect — are integral to everyday operations.
Each year, as one of the area’s leading 501(c)3 charitable organizations, the Summit Area YMCA serves more than 17,000 individuals with our free and fee-based programs and services in an area spanning the New Jersey communities of Berkeley Heights, Gillette, Millburn, New Providence, Short Hills, Springfield, Stirling and Summit. Our history is rooted in working side-by-side with our neighbors to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to learn, grow and thrive. Through the generosity of our members, donors, and partners, we are able to offer financial assistance for our programs and services to those in need.