AP NEWS

Baraboo Elks plan special needs prom

March 6, 2019
Shannon Hill donated dresses to be given away to those attending the Dancing Under the Stars prom. Hill is a member of the committee organizing the event for people with special needs.

Baraboo has embraced a new event like a beloved dance partner, affectionately pulling it close to its heart.

The Elks Club is organizing a free prom for people with special needs, set for March 23 at an Easter Seals respite camp in Wisconsin Dells. Supporters have stepped up to provide dresses, neckties, floral centerpieces and music.

“I had no idea the community would embrace it the way it has,” said Elks secretary Kathy Francisco.

Dancing Under the Stars will welcome participants 14 and older. It will feature a red carpet entrance complete with volunteer paparazzi. It’s supported by a $2,000 grant from the Elks National Foundation.

“There’s not enough things for teens with special needs to do,” said local parent Shannon Hill, who serves on the organizing committee.

“I think it’s important for them to feel accepted, respected in their social activities,” said Jo Heath, an Elk who serves on the committee.

Francisco, a retired special education teacher, is modeling the event after a prom for special needs dancers she attended in Indiana. “I had more fun at that prom than I did at any of my own,” she said.

She said people with disabilities and special needs make up a minority group that doesn’t get enough support. Or so she thought before organizing the prom.

The nonprofit Becca’s Closet donated 200 dresses to be given away Saturday. Blooms Unfold offered centerpieces. Ryan and David Berahn volunteered DJ services. Outlets at the Dells provided neckties. Photographers Steph Shanks and Victoria Matteo are donating their time and talents.

“It just took off,” Francisco said.

Organizers hope the prom attracts 50 participants. They’re busy lining up volunteers to make corsages and boutonnieres, and fill goodie bags for guests. About $300 in donations has come in to cover incidental costs. “Little things are bound to come up,” Hill said.

After overseeing the dress and tie giveaway, set for 10 a.m. to noon Saturday at St. Clare Meadows Care Center, organizers will turn their attention to the main event. They hope the prom — featuring a catered dinner before the dance — becomes an annual affair.

“We’ve been really blessed,” Francisco said. “People have just rallied.”