Community Helping Special Needs Students Get A Magical Prom

KALAMAZOO COUNTY, Mich.– It started as a simple Facebook post on a Wednesday night.

‘I only expected to get like 4 or 5 dresses,’ said Katie Finley, a paraprofessional at WoodsEdge Learning Center in Portage.

Within seconds, the comments poured in. People in West Michigan wanted to offer up their help to bring a magical prom to life.

‘I’m a Schwans man in Portage and can give my time for a fundraising sale,’ wrote one poster.

‘I have 3 prom dresses they may have,’ wrote another poster.

The donations are to help with the upcoming prom at WoodsEdge Learning Center in Portage, a center-based school with the Kalamazoo Regional Educational Service Agency that provides special education and therapy to students with mental and physical disabilities in all nine districts off Kalamazoo County. The prom is a huge deal and the response was overwhelming.

“It just blew up, it was amazing,” said Finley.

Every spring, the school organizes the spring dance for students and they do all the fundraising themselves.

“Our students can’t afford to do that, said school nurse and organizer Kim Wright. “It’s also difficult for parents to take students out and about to buy dresses, it takes a lot off the parent’s shoulders.”

This May, the staff plans to transform the school gym into a dance hall with a drive-in movie theater theme for about 60 students, many who are wheelchairs.

“Every day is a holiday, working here, but the prom is a couple steps up above that, it is quite a big deal,” explains Neil Juhl, who works at the center as a paraprofessional and has a step-daughter who attends the school.

“This year will be her first prom,” he says with a smile, holding step-daughter Lauren Johnson, who is autistic and severely cognitively impaired.

She can’t speak, but loves giving out hugs. For her, the dance is a huge deal.

“To see her get dressed up, it’s amazing,” said Juhl.

To pull it off, the school staff makes sure every child has a chance to wear a dress or tie.

Community volunteers donate their make-up and hair services.  Local honor students at Loy Norrix High School will help with decorations and escort students to the prom.

And this year, with Facebook donations, the school is getting some extra help to make prom for their students extra special.

“I just want our students to enjoy feeling special for a time and I want the parents to enjoy their child and having wonderful time with them is my hope,” said school nurse and organizer Kim Wright. “Our students are wonderful, they bring smiles to my faces, every day I get teary-eyed at their successes it is just so neat to watch them grow and do things we take for granted.”

To help with the May 17th prom, you can donate.

The school is looking for formal dresses, men’s ties and dress shirts, make-up and hair accessories, invitations, and fingernail polish.

Donations can be dropped off at WoodsEdge Learning Center, located at 1501 East Milham Avenue in Portage or you can contact Kim Wright at kwright@kresa.org.

Items can also be dropped off at the following locations:

  • Security Office at Rivertown Crossings Mall in Grandville, 616-257-7600
  • The YMCA Wolverine Worldwide Center in Rockford, 616-363-3000
  • Security Office at Crossroads Mall, 269-903-3231

There’s more information on Facebook by clicking HERE.

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