Special needs prom, 2014

Great Lakes Church, which has three area locations, hosted a special-needs prom on May 18 at Festival Hall, 5 Fifth St., Racine. Organizers said they had 87 participants and estimated the boisterous, enthusiastic crowd at more than 500 people

RACINE — Last year’s famous annual Rotary Post Prom was followed the next day by an arguably even more remarkable event: The first prom here strictly for people with special needs.

Organizers of the event led by Great Lakes Church are now laying plans and seeking participants for the second annual event, to be held May 17, the day after Post Prom, at Festival Hall.

Last year, 87 participants did the special needs prom. This year organizers are shooting for 200 guests from Racine and Kenosha counties, Event Director Lani Renneau said.

“We’ve recruited a lot more people to help,” she said, but organizers need many more to get involved.

The special needs prom was conceived by the church, which currently meets in the Racine area at Gifford Elementary School, 8332 Northwestern Ave., as a way to give special needs young people — who might feel uncomfortable at a prom — a chance for a similar experience. Last year a raucously enthusiastic audience cheered with gusto as each participant was escorted into Festival Hall, 5 Fifth St., on the same red carpet used for Rotary Post Prom.

After the event for young people ages 15-24, Renneau said, “Parents were saying this was the most phenomenal evening in their child’s life.”

As part of their gift package, each guest was given an event T-shirt, she said. According to parents, Renneau said, “Some of the kids never wanted to take the T-shirts off. Some of them wanted to wear them for weeks.”

Speaking for planners, she said, “At this point we want to let potential guests be aware that this is coming again.”

Organizers expect they will be able to offer the special needs prom experience to a larger number of young people this year, Renneau said. “It was so successful last year, we’re pretty sure that the word got around.”

Partly because of that success and the number of spectators who attended, each side of the red carpet will have two sets of bleachers instead of just one, she said.

This year the check-in point, where volunteers will do hair and makeup for guests, will be Memorial Hall, 72 Seventh St. From there they will take a short limousine ride to Festival Hall to walk the red carpet.

Each guest is provided two high school hosts, or escorts, for the entire evening, from the red-carpet entrance to the end, Renneau said. Volunteers have begun making appearances at Racine and Kenosha high schools in search of young people for those roles.

In addition, organizers have many other needs, Renneau said, including volunteer licensed cosmetologists, unused makeup, dresses, hair products, jewelry, financial contributions and adult volunteers for other tasks. Any leftover money or other items would be kept in a fund for next year, she said.

“And,” she said, “we welcome new ideas.”

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