BY CHRISTOPHER CORREA
A group of volunteers is looking to provide local students who have special needs with an opportunity to experience their very own prom night, specifically tailored to their needs.
Prom with a Purpose: A Special Needs Prom will be held from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. April 2 at the Calvary Church gymnasium in Turlock. Attendees and their registered guests will be treated to a meal, a live DJ, a photo booth, and can have professional photos taken.
The event is free for local special needs teens and young adults and their guests. Guests may include parents, legal guardians, or other caretakers for the student that may be necessary. To further accommodate participating students, a multi-sensory safe room will be available at the venue for those who may become overwhelmed by noise, lights, crowds or other occurrences. There will also be medical and security personnel on-site.
Andrew Kahler is the area director of Turlock’s Young Life non-profit youth group, which are helping organize and run the event. He explained that a prom for those with mental or physical challenges is something that he has wanted to create for several years now.
“I really believe in service [and] giving back in community and things like that,” Kahler said. “I dreamed about this. We're all just a bunch of people coming together trying to make this happens because we believe in serving families with special needs in this way.”
Kahler provided further explanation of the eligibility requirements as it relates to ages and who can serve as a guest for a registered student.
“What we ask is that the person is on the spectrum in some way of special needs. They could be high functioning to where they don't need their parents, but if a guardian or family member wants to come, they totally can,” he explained.
Kahler added that, because the event is in its first year, there will be limitations. These include a registration cap of 65 students who are between the ages of 14 and 22.
In addition to providing students with special needs a place to have fun, Kahler has also found that events like these can help build relationships with students who may not have interacted with each other prior.
“This is designed to feel like a prompt for making the kids who wouldn't normally go to prom, but they create opportunities for young people that wouldn't necessarily happen,” he said.
With the help of Caitlin Braden, a Young Life leader for Turlock High School, students will be volunteering on the night of the event to set up, clean and provide additional assistance and support to attendees.
As this is the first year the Prom with a Purpose will be taking place, Kahler will also be looking for feedback from students, parents and other guests so that they can improve the experience in the future.
“I would love to see this morph and grow into something that is every year or every other year, maybe even expand to more towns and pockets in the area,” he said.
Those interested in attending or signing up their child for Turlock’s first ever Prom with a Purpose can register at www.turlockpwp.com. For more information, contact Kahler and Braden through email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call them at (209) 585-3409.