Some students find prom overwhelming or too difficult to go to, but that doesn’t mean these students don’t appreciate a night out with friends.
When funding wasn’t possible anymore from the Tim Tebow Foundation’s A Night to Shine, Susan Armstrong knew something had to take its place. Armstrong is the Oak Harbor Public Schools transition coordinator, and she used her connections to bring together a committee and plan a prom for special needs students.
“It felt like a huge hole in the community that needed to be filled,” Armstrong said.
At 6 p.m., Saturday all people on the island who are 14 years and older with disabilities, their families and caregivers are invited to A Night To Remember prom at the Chief Petty Officers Club in Oak Harbor.
Chloe Miller, a 19-year-old Oak Harbor transitions student, is looking forward to wearing a “nice sparkling dress” and dancing with her friends.
“I love any kind of music,” Miller said.
She also went to last year’s event, A Night to Shine, which was sponsored by local churches and the Tim Tebow Foundation. However, the national nonprofit’s funding only lasts a couple of years and local churches were not able to foot the entire bill for 2019, Armstrong said.
Her committee, which included transition coordinators from the island’s public schools and leaders of local nonprofits, surveyed the students who attended past events and tried to keep the features that mattered most. Things like a red-carpet entrance, photo booth, game room, karaoke, live video with the attendees up on the big screen and a quiet room.
Miller said she especially appreciates thatthe prom includes a quiet space. As much as she loves the music, she said it can get overwhelming at times.
The room will include sensory games to support attention spans, headphones, compression vests and weighted blankets to help calm individuals, Armstrong said. The sensory materials will be provided by Aptitude Habilitation Services in Oak Harbor, Armstrong said.
In fact, the whole event is running mostly on donated time, materials and services, she said. The South Whidbey High School Key Club built the photo booth. The DJ is performing for free. Rain Shadow Nursery is providing plants to use as decorations. The Garage of Blessings is sponsoring the venue and providing volunteers. And the advertising and other support of the event is sponsored by Eagle Wings DisAbility Ministries in Marysville.
The students have been involved in creating decorations as well. Monday morning, Armstrong’s class spent time adding glitter and stringing stars to hang at the venue. The stars came in blue, red and gold, which represent Autism Spectrum Disorder awareness, Autism Spectrum Disorder acceptance and Down Syndrome awareness respectively. They also are South Whidbey, Coupeville and Oak Harbor school colors.
Almost 80 people attended the similar event last year, Armstrong said. She said the people who go are often socially isolated, which makes the opportunity even more important.