Spreading Joy to All

Written By: 
Jill Jemison

This prom celebrates the special needs community

PHOTO - (center) The Joy Prom is a special event for attendees and for volunteers; (right) Ashley Owens.

Special needs—the words encompass an array of conditions, from ailments to diseases, from physical handicaps to mental states. There are limitations, difficulties, inabilities to understand or simply do. But in spite of these limitations, humanity has a desire to understand and honor each human spirit. At the Joy Prom, the community comes together to celebrate each child and adult and love without judgment.

The Joy Prom, now in its sixth year, will be held on March 17, complete with a “Wonders of the World” theme. The prom is hosted by members and friends of Beach Church and is an opportunity for individuals with special needs, along with their families, to enjoy a night they most likely wouldn’t get to experience otherwise. It’s a night of happy tears, dancing and good food, special photos, and families sharing a unique experience with their loved ones.

Lisa Owens has attended each prom the last four years with her daughter Ashley, 24 (pictured above), who was diagnosed with mucolipidosis type IV (ML IV). ML IV is a rare autosomal recessive genetic disease that causes developmental delays, retinal degeneration, gross and small motor dysfunction and limited lifespan. Most with the disease become blind by the time they are teenagers, as did Ashley. Ashley does not walk or talk but she understands almost everything and will clap or nod for yes and shake her head for no. She wears AFOs (ankle-foot orthotics), which allow her to weight bear so she can stand and dance with assistance.

“I believe the majority of the special needs community really has a connection with music,” says Owens. “Where Ashley is not able to participate in most activities, she loves music. She feels the vibration as her other senses are stronger with her blindness. I think she can feel the positive energy and it makes her happy, as she will yell loudly in excitement.”

Her mom explained that she cannot tell Ashley about Joy Prom until the day it happens because she is not able to comprehend the concept of time. “She associates Joy Prom as a big, fun event—she definitely knows what it is! Sometimes when you mention Joy Prom she will rock her whole body back and forth with anticipation.”

Owens appreciates the church and community for hosting the event. “It’s such an over-the-top, spectacular evening to honor these special people in our lives who can go to a prom, be themselves and not worry about anyone judging or making fun of them.”

Each year the committee creates a theme with spectacular decor. A red carpet entrance with cheering volunteers is put in motion along with Conway Marching Band, which sets the tone to energize the families.

“I love looking around and seeing the joy in these kids and their families,” says Dave Moen, who heads up Beach Buddies Ministry of Beach Church. “It’s the stories behind the stories that are so amazing—it’s hard to imagine the medical things they have gone through. For one night, none of that matters.”

Beach Buddies is offered on Sunday mornings during service times, where special needs families can attend service while their loved one is cared for and kept safe in a learning environment.

The Joy Prom has more than 120 special needs prom attendees and also more than 200 volunteer—children, teens and adults who have worked on the event over several months’ time.

“It’s amazing how we have small children all the way to seniors who don’t get around easily offering their time, energy and assistance,” says Children’s Ministry Coordinator Angela Jordan.

The Joy Prom will be held from 5–8 p.m. Saturday, March 17, and is free for families with special needs loved ones. For information, visit beachchurch.org or call (843) 236-9700.

Resources: 

Photographs Courtesy of the joy prom