Here are some things we don’t always think of as going together: Wheelchairs and dancing. Autism and play groups. Families and prom.
Linda Hall doesn’t intend to let this stand in her way. She is organizing a family prom with wheelchair dancing to raise funds for a community center where children with special needs – and those without – can connect and play. Special Family Prom, to be held from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. March 22 in North Hollywood, will double as a Sweet 16 party for Hall’s daughter Djanai, who has cerebral palsy, epilepsy and developmental delays.
The event is the first major fundraiser for a project Hall calls inClusion ClubHouse, a not-for-profit community center designed to provide a safe, inclusionary environment for families with special needs. All proceeds from the prom will contribute to this effort, with the eventual goal of raising $500,000 to get inClusion ClubHouse off the ground.
The theme for the prom is Djanai’s Chocolate Factory (think Willy Wonka), and the suggested donation for a Golden Ticket is $50 per couple or $100 per family. The evening will include a lunch buffet with cake donated by Special Cakes By Ruben (with a gluten-free option available), prom photos and arts and crafts. There will be a fashion show, and a dance instructor will give lessons for special-needs kids. Hall promises that the DJ, in his wheelchair, has beats that will keep everyone moving. “Be ready to dress in your prom best and have a great time!” she says.
In keeping with the Willy Wonka theme, the first five children with special needs to RSVP will also get the “golden treatment,” including a special outfit for the event (donated by sponsors), flowers, a limo ride, and other fun perks.
Event sponsors include Syrenthia Ferris, founder of Parents of Children With All Special Needs (POCWASN), whose mission is to provide a support system to family members of individuals with disabilities; Dina Kimmel, owner and founder of We Rock the Spectrum (www.werockthespectrumkidsgym.com) inclusive gym; and event planner Jocelyn Crawford, owner of Cairos Customs (www.cairoscustoms.com).
Hall, who also has a 5-year-old and a 7-year-old, says she decided on the prom because of Djanai’s love of music and dancing, then added the Willy Wonka theme to make the event fun for all ages. Her vision for the clubhouse she hopes to launch is similarly inclusive. Hall imagines a center with life skills classes, fun activities and social groups that truly encourage typical and special-needs kids to mingle. “My goal is to create classes where they interact with one another,” she says. “I want these kids to learn how to play with each other.” A parents’ lounge and library would provide resources and respite for Mom and Dad as well.
Families can help by buying tickets to the prom, purchasing a sponsorship package to help fund the event, or donating needed items. Hall’s wish list includes dresses and suits for special-needs attendees, limo service, photographers, props and costumes, flowers, arts and crafts supplies and hair and makeup services. There is a limited number of tickets available, and sponsor donations are being accepted up to the day of the event. Donations of goods and services are being accepted through March 7.