A Prom for Special Teens

first-time event designed for high school students with special needs

Justine  Childs |

Prom goes as far back as 1894 and has become a right of passage for high schoolers everywhere. It’s a chance to develop social skills, to wear beautiful dresses and suits, to get hair and nails done, and to order matching corsages and boutonnières – not to mention getting dressed up and getting embarrassed by parents who take too many photos.

Last spring, as Jennifer Sanford was scrolling through Facebook looking at all the prom pictures posted by proud parents, she made a comment about wishing there was a prom for students with special needs: students in wheelchairs, students with autism who may have noise or light sensitivities, students with any special needs who may feel overwhelmed at their high school prom. Kelly Peterson saw Jennifer’s comment and contacted her immediately to say, “Let’s do it!” and the Born to Shine Prom was born.

This will be the inaugural year for the Born to Shine Prom, which will be meant for students with special needs in grades nine and up from around the Chippewa Valley. The prom will be from 4-9pm on Saturday, April 11, at the Metropolis Resort, 5150 Fairview Drive, Eau Claire. The prom will be an elegant evening filled with pizza, dessert, drinks, crowns, tiaras, pictures, flowers, and dress attire. It will be low-sensory event – in other words, calmer, quieter and with less excessive stimuli than a typical prom – and parents of attendees are asked to fill out an information sheet ahead of time explaining all the student’s needs. Parents can stay on the premises during the prom, but they are encouraged to stay out of sight so students can have an independent, fun evening of dancing and socializing.

“My overall goal of this prom is to have a fun, judgement-free event where kids with special needs can come, be themselves, and have a great time,” Jennifer said.

Jennifer’s daughter Natalie is 16. She is going to the prom and said she is most looking forward to “meeting everyone and dancing.” Natalie is outgoing, friendly, and has autism.

Kelly and Jennifer want all students with special needs to feel included, so students will pay a nominal fee of only $5.That will cover food, flowers, and photos, and each student will receive either a crown or a tiara. The two organizers are making all this magic possible with donations from within the community. They still need flowers, crowns, and tiaras, as well as clothing for boys and prom dresses for girls.

If you want to donate, contact Jennifer at jjsanford5@gmail.com or Kelly at silpada@tcc.coop

Journey Ahead

We all get old. In fact, some of us, right at this very moment, ARE old. V1's guide to challenges and opportunities of growing older in the Chippewa Valley. Presented by the ADRC of Eau Claire County