Attendees of the special needs prom, which took place Saturday on the campus of Wesleyan College, pose for a group picture.

‘Welcome to Hollywood’: Special needs adults enjoy a night of dancing in tinseltown

BUCKHANNON – Local young adults spent this past Saturday evening dancing, socializing and enjoying some stellar snacks in Hollywood, thanks to some area volunteers.

This is the third year for the special needs prom, where area young and older adults with special needs gather for an evening of fun.

The theme for 2019? “Welcome to Hollywood!”

This year’s organizer, West Virginia Wesleyan College sophomore Sarah Wilmoth, said Wesleyan students dreamed up the idea a few years ago and made it a reality.

“I got involved last year, and the original organizers graduated, so I took it over this year,” Wilmoth said.

Wilmoth said the event, which took place in the Virginia Thomas Law Center for the Performing Arts on Wesleyan’s campus, started in the afternoon for some of the participants.

“We have people doing hair and makeup and helping the participants get ready,” Wilmoth said. “This evening is about everyone having fun – there will be dancing, food and it will be a lot of fun.”

Wilmoth said in 2018, there were approximately 100 people who attended.

Again this year, invitations were mailed out to everyone in Upshur County with special needs. Attendees were reassured ahead of time not to worry if they didn’t have a prom gown.

“We have boxes of gowns that the girls may wear,” Wilmoth said. “The gowns were all donated a couple years ago from people throughout the community. We have so many, that we did not have to have any more donated this year – and they are beautiful.”

She said most everything for the evening was made possible through generous donations from Upshur County residents.

“Most of the food was donated – we have a very small budget for the event, and it is amazing for us to receive so much from the community,” Wilmoth said.

The event does take lots of time to plan and coordinate; Wilmoth said she started the process back in November.

“I had a ton of volunteers come on Saturday morning to help me set up for the event,” she said. “I could not have done this without them. Alisa Lively (Wesleyan’s director of campus life) was instrumental in helping me get this together.”

Wilmoth said the event is near and dear to her heart.

“My senior year at Fairmont Senior High School, I was a peer tutor to students with special needs, and that is what first got me interested,” Wilmoth said. “I have also helped with Special Olympics. So, when I saw an email go out about this last year, I knew I wanted to be involved. Last year, I went to an interest meeting about the prom event and helped do all of the decorating last year. This year, I got to work planning the entire event. It is so much fun, and those attending enjoy it so much.”

Lively said the original organizers of the event had heard about the Tim Tebow “Night to Shine,” and they decided to do it “Buckhannon-style.”

Everyone at the prom had the opportunity to pose for photos in the photo booth, as well as munch on snacks of all sorts while they networked with friends.

However, the highlight of the evening was the crowning of the prom king and prom queen – Marcus Gregory and Tasha Carrico.

Carrico said she has attended all three of the proms, each of which she’s enjoyed.

“It is a dance for people with special needs,” Carrico said. “It is a really good chance to dress up and get together and just have fun. We get to go out and do things and not everyone has that chance very often. It’s a really good social event for the special needs community.”

Carrico said she participated in Special Olympics in basketball, track and volleyball.

“If people have the time, they are always looking for volunteers to help with the prom,” she said. “They can do hair or makeup or just come and be a part of the event. It’s a really good chance, not only for us to get to know one another, but for us to get to know others in the community.”

Josh Howell also has been attending the prom for the last three years. He said the prom offers him the opportunity to have fun with his friends.

“My favorite part is dancing,” he said. “It is a great opportunity. I enjoy coming to this prom every year.”

“In Special Olympics, I enjoy participating in the bowling and basketball skills,” Howell added. “I also do the track and field events.”

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