HALEDON, NJ - Rain drizzled over Haledon as young adults stepped into the banquet hall, chandeliers glistening and colored lights decorating the DJ booth, as huge, golden balloons spelled out “PROM” in the corner of the room. The music blasting so loud you could hear it outside the venue.
It was clear that the party inside couldn’t be dampened.
This was no ordinary party, however. It was much more.
On Thursday, The “New” La Neve’s Banquets, in partnership with the Yo Soy Así Foundation, hosted their annual free prom for special needs young adults from the greater Paterson area. With donations from the Paterson Knights of Columbus, the organizations were able to give special needs students the whole prom experience at no cost to them. Upon arrival at the event, students were greeted by volunteers and were given a corsage or boutonniere, and a name tag.
Yolanda LaRosa, owner of La Neve’s and creator of the prom, told TAPinto Paterson that the reason for the event is simple: special needs young adults are often forgotten, and she wanted to put an end to that.
“When I was in school I had many special friends who were left out and weren’t invited to fun events, so I had the means to do it and I have this beautiful venue,” she said in an address to all attendees of the prom.
Yo Soy Así “I Am Like This” is a Paterson based nonprofit dedicated to serving people in Paterson that are on the autism spectrum. Guerlina de la Hoz, founder of Yo Soy Así, and a mother of a special needs child, explained that more opportunities cannot be brought to special needs children unless communities work together.
“As a family, as a community, as parents, schools, we need to stand together in order to make a change and bring in more opportunities for our children, making more programs available to our children, summer is right next door and in Passaic County, we don’t have so many of these resources,” she says.
This prom is significant because it allows the students to have a part of the typical high school experience that they otherwise would not have, according to Father Andrew Dutko, the newly ordained chaplain/teacher from DePaul High School who gave the opening prayer of the night.
“Just look at the kids’ faces, they get to be away from their chaperones on the dance floor,” he said. “They’re just enjoying themselves and they have this feeling of independence and this feeling of belonging, and who wouldn’t want to be a part of that.”
Dominic Frasca, a first-time volunteer who traveled all the way from Brooklyn, NY, to be a part of the evening agreed with Dutko, and said that LaRosa’s event is incredibly meaningful.
“Special needs people need to know that they are people that are very well respected and appreciated,” he said. “They do as much for our world as anybody else.”
De la Hoz says that the fight does not end here; special needs people need to be incorporated into other social settings to remind them that they are worth it.
“Our children need to socialize, go out, because they deserve it.”
“They are human beings and we need to provide them a life with dignity,” she concluded.
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Casey Ferrante is entering her second year at Georgetown and is an intern for TAPinto Paterson.