RACINE — This city’s famous annual Post Prom did an encore at Festival Hall on Sunday, with the first prom here solely for people with special needs.

The event was hosted by the nondenominational Great Lakes Church, which meets at three area locations including the Renaissance Cinema in Sturtevant, 10411 Washington Ave.

Sunday’s prom took advantage of all the Rotary Post Prom decorations and setup that were left in place at Festival Hall, 5 Fifth St.

The special-needs prom was planned, starting last fall, as a way to give special-needs young people — who might feel uncomfortable at a regular prom — a chance for a similar experience. Eighty-seven participants entered Festival Hall across the red carpet accompanied by 130 volunteer hosts, many from Great Lakes Church.

A boisterous crowd thundered their cheers for every participant making his or her way down the red carpet. Those who could reach, including sailors from the Great Lakes Naval Station, slapped hands with the entrants.

“I thought it was awesome,” onlooker Pam Scott of Pleasant Prairie said later. Scott said she has a friend with children who have special needs, as well as a neighbor with special needs.

“To make them feel special for a day,” Scott said, “... how awesome is that?”

Volunteers and donations

Two hours before the prom started, 75 volunteer hairstylists and other volunteers started to beautify hair and applied makeup for the young ladies, at Gateway Technical College’s cosmetology lab and beauty school.

Rachel Giese, 19, who is in the Park High School-based Transitions Program, talked as Kenosha hairstylist Kelly Salerno curled her hair.

“It’s taking forever, like usual,” remarked Giese, who was attending her third prom.

Giese claimed to know just a few people, but Salerno said, “She’s been saying hi to everybody.”

After being styled, Jenna Antreassian, 21, of Burlington, a graduate of the Wisconsin School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, met her host, Bekah Gruener, 15, of Bristol.

Each host was handed a small card with their guest’s name and a couple of things they like as conversation-starters. Antreassian’s card, for example, said she “loves the Beatles” and horseback riding.

The prom was expected to cost $15,000 to $20,000, Great Lakes Church Pastor Jeremy Moore said previously. And all of it was coming via donations of money and services. As examples, Tina’s Dress Boutique, 503 Sixth St., donated dresses and Men’s Wearhouse offered a deal on tuxedos. Gateway donated the space for students to get ready, and limousine and DJ services also were donated.

And the Racine Downtown Rotary Club, which puts on Post Prom, footed the bill for the red carpet, bleachers and decorations.

After the last participant had entered Festival Hall for dancing and food, Manny and Meredith Leon of Kenosha shared their impressions of the arrival ceremony. Both are members of Great Lakes Church and know one of the participants.

“It was really exciting; I hope to see more events like this,” Meredith said. “It was so uplifting, too.”

“I loved it,” Manny said. “It was very emotional too, for me.”

Editor's note: Rachel Giese was originally misidentified in the photo taken of her at Gateway Technical College. The error has been corrected.

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