SCOTCH PLAINS, NJ – Saturday, May 4, was a special night at The St. Bartholomew Church, which hosted an evening filled with laughter and dancing for special needs teens.
The theme of the night was "Starry Starry Night", perfectly matching the bright stars that stepped onto the "red carpet" and into a room decked in stars and twinkle lights. The event was coordinated and set up by volunteers of the St. Bart's, Summit Area YMCA, and Fanwood-Scotch Plains YMCA.
The teens checked in and rolled up to the doors of the church in a white limousine, attended by buddies for the evening from local high schools and volunteers from the Church and YMCAs. Each teen buddy helped to ensure a safe and enjoyable prom experience for all while assisting their assigned guest. Each special guest had a crown or tiara placed atop their heads, while volunteers, friends and family of the guests cheered them on as they made their way to the party room.
Upon entering the gymnasium, teens were met with a dazzling display of twinkle lights, balloon centerpieces and star-shaped balloon sculpture behind the DJ who played upbeat dance tunes. Philip Acosta, the MC for the night and also a Berkeley Heights Governor Livingston High School teacher, led and encouraged teens to karaoke along with hit songs like Disney's Moana "You're Welcome" and Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'."
Dinner was donated by Texas Roadhouse, whose Armadillo mascot made an appearance to dance and take pictures with attendees. Family members of the prom guests also enjoyed a sit down dinner and fellowship in the cafeteria provided by Nick's Pizza.
Sponsors included Action Limousine, Pantagis Renaissance, Apple Blossom Flower Shop, Hall’s Garden Center & Florist, Taylor Rental, St. Bart’s Moms Group, Scotch Plains-Fanwood Newcomers and Neighbors, Katie Party Shop, Berkeley Heights Rotary International, Cub Scouts Pack 103 Lions and Tigers, Railside Cafe, River and Rail Cantina, and Scotch Plains Rescue Squad.
The Berkeley Heights YMCA, St. Bartholomew Church and Fanwood-Scotch Plains YMCA have a shared commitment to serving the community.
“This is the second year that we've collaborated to bring this event to the community, and it's just as wonderful as the first time.” said Lisa McQuilkin, Wellness Director of the Berkeley Heights YMCA and prom committee member. “This all started when we, the Summit Area YMCA, St. Bartholomew Church and Fanwood-Scotch Plains YMCA, worked together to offer Friday Teen Fun Night events once a month for special needs high school students, which are evenings these teens could gather for games, activities, arts and crafts, or outings."
"The prom event grew from these mini events, and it wouldn't have been possible without the help of so many dedicated committee members, volunteers and sponsors throughout the three groups," she added. "Every time we see the smiles on all the kids faces, and the happiness from the parents, it makes all the hard work worth it.”
"It has always been a dream of mine to coordinate a special needs prom. When we partnered with the Berkeley Heights YMCA and Fanwood-Scotch Plains YMCA to run the Friday night programs, it moved to becoming a reality," said Elaine Coupe, Community Outreach Director for the St. Bartholomew Church. "The building was filled with 250 people in all, but mostly filled with love and support for the guests and families. No one that experienced the night left unmoved. It truly is a community event that exhibits care and support for our special needs community."
St. Bartholomew Church, pastored by Father John Paladino, is an inclusive parish that provides programs for the community, special needs families, the elderly, poor, sick and homeless. The church first partnered with the Summit Area YMCA to start the “Friday Teen Fun Night” program.
The Summit Area YMCA and Fanwood-Scotch Plains YMCA are focused on youth development, healthy living and social responsibility.
As a member of the Diversity, Inclusion and Global Innovation Network, the Summit Area YMCA is committed to bridge building and encouraging a welcoming atmosphere within the community. The Y is made up of people from all walks of life who are joined together by a shared commitment to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to learn, grow and thrive. Supporting families and the community in their efforts to spread awareness, appreciation for diversity and a sense of inclusivity for everyone in the community is core to the Y’s mission to help every individual reach their highest potential.