DeLaSalle High School for the past 10 years has sponsored “Starry Night Prom,” which annually draws several hundred people of all ages with disabilities, many of whom never had attended a prom before.
Couples and single attendees dressed to the “T” and danced the night away to the live music inside the downtown Minneapolis school’s star-themed decorated gymnasium.
It is no different than other school proms, including the “Grand March,” declares Lasallian Ministry Associate C.J. Hallman. “Each participant of the prom gets to go under an archway, where they get their pictures taken,” he explains. “People can applaud them, see them dressed up and give them a moment in the spotlight. Some even go through two or three times, and we allow them to go until it’s over.”
The school’s Lasallian Ministry Department organized the annual event. Hosting it was a result of DeLaSalle students exploring ways to perform community service, recalls school Vice President Peg Hodapp. “We thought disability was something we hadn’t examined yet,” she explains. “We threw the first one [in 2000] with about 70 guests. Over the years it has grown – the last two years, there have been over a thousand people here.”
An estimated 1,000-plus people, including caregivers and parents, attended the May 8 event.
“We welcome people from grade school on up to 75 years old,” continues Hodapp.
“We once had a man here who was 75 and lived in an institution most of his life. He was so thrilled.”
Kiebler Noel says this year was his fifth time attending the prom. The 24-year-old from Crystal says he really enjoys people watching. “People are dressed up looking sharp, great and pretty,” he notes.
“I’m glad that it is every year for people to come and enjoy themselves,” says Thelma Barb, a worker at Seeks Home, a group home located in Osseo.
Hodapp says that typically feedback afterwards is positive, especially from parents. “They were thrilled and excited that their kids got a chance to do this,” she adds. “Moms…are in tears that their kids got to experience it. I never had any negative feedback.”
Over the years, the number of students who work the annual event has grown as well. “A third of our student body [DeLaSalle’s total enrollment is around 600] gets involved in this event,” reports Hodapp. Student volunteers are required to attend several sensitivity training sessions, beginning in February, each lasting around an hour. “We bring in people that both work with people with disabilities and [who] have disabilities,” says Hodapp.
“It helps us get a better understanding of how to interact with someone with a disability,” adds senior Maddie Hodapp, who will attend college this fall at the University of St. Thomas. She has worked each of the 10 proms and says she has learned that people with disabilities are no different than so-called normal people.
“When people would say negative comments about people who have disabilities, I’m the first one to say something about it,” she points out. “They may have a disability, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have feelings.
“Instead of treating them like a child, we want to show them that we are here to help you have a great time and want you to enjoy what we created for you.
It’s about them and not about us.”
“Although we had our annual DeLaSalle junior-senior prom last week, the students still help do this Starry Night Prom, and they are just as excited as if it was their own prom,” adds Hallman.
Three first-time student volunteers each expressed their pleasure working the prom.
“I’m happy to be here to make this a real big day for them,” says junior Karrie Puckett. “I like seeing their smiling faces and [the girls] in their pretty dresses.”
“They are super happy, dancing and having fun,” notes junior Sadorah Anderson.
Junior Makeda Toure adds, “I think it is really good that we put this on, because most of the people had terrible high school experiences in their life.
I think it is good that we help them relive their high school years.”
“I think it is wonderful that DeLaSalle would do something like this [because] it includes everybody,” concludes Boris Huggar, who for the past three years has served as a chaperone. “Every year, I have seen the students come out with enthusiasm and want to help.”
In the interest of full disclosure: Lasallian Ministry Associate C.J. Hallman is the writer’s son.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.