Remember your prom? For many, it is a rite of passage in their youth. Often individuals affected by disabilities cannot attend such events, but lately, churches have been opening their doors to host proms for uniquely abled individuals. On March 26, Grace Seaford Church (GSC), partnering with other organizations, hosted “Gemstones Prom.” Close to 100 guests with disabilities registered along with buddies to accompany each one and over 200 volunteers plus family members who attended. A year in the planning, GCS Senior Pastor Larry Davis said Gemstones Prom “blessed my socks off.”
GSC partnered with a long list of community businesses and service organizations to make the evening a success. Davis shook his head in amazement as he ticked off the list of companies and individuals that donated their goods and services or provided deep discounts. These included photographers, formal wear companies, florists, printers, disc jockeys, food providers, advertising professionals, makeup and hairstyling artists, and onsite EMS services. Nearby Atlanta Road Alliance Church provided the venue free of charge. Additionally, multiple organizations, including the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware (BCM/D), the Eastern Baptist Association, and local churches and businesses, sponsored the prom to alleviate the costs.
Davis explained that GSC had hosted two Tim Tebow Foundation (TTF) “Night to Shine” (NTS) proms, but this year, the foundation determined that the NTS proms would be virtual. “I love the Tim Tebow organization and what they’re doing, but for the (Delmarva) peninsula, we felt it was a better in-person event,” he said, adding that the NTS proms were incredible and invaluable. “We would not have been able to put this together without the training we received from the TTF,” he said.
On the big night, guests had a literal red carpet welcome with enthusiastic volunteers cheering on the side. After meeting their buddies, the guests took free limo rides and returned for prom photos. They sang karaoke, played games, and enjoyed the classic prom evening with dinner and dancing. The anticipated crown ceremony took place near the end of the night. Each guest was crowned one at a time, individually, by their buddies, as kings and queens of the prom. The finale was a balloon drop. Everyone cheered and volleyed the balloons through the air.
The prom’s purpose was ultimately to glorify God and share His message of love and salvation. Davis shared a gospel presentation and affirmed that God divinely designed each person in His image. Davis also urged all to come to GSC on Sunday or find another church and attend. He emphasized the prom was a kingdom-focused event.
Several days after the prom, Davis acknowledged being happily exhausted. One of his highlights was seeing BCM/D Associate Executive Director Tom Stolle, his wife, Shelley, and their son, Jimmy, who is affected by autism, attend the event. Tom, who initiated the BCM/D’s disability emphasis, has been involved in all aspects of this ministry, including the NTS proms, but Jimmy could not participate — until this year. “That was one of my favorite parts of the night — to see Jimmy walk through the door,” Tom said.
Davis also loved watching the smiles and the excitement — the exhilaration and emotions. “One woman was on two crutches. When it was her turn to be crowned, she was so excited she practically sprinted forward. I was afraid she was going to fall over!” he shared.
Davis said he is thankful for all of the volunteers. He especially recognized Kristin Turner, who served as the volunteer coordinator, and Bambi Nock, who oversaw the coordination of the buddies. Nock is the wife of Gordon Nock, who is one of the pastors at First Baptist Church in Pocomoke City.
Jimmy Hoppa, Delmarva’s WBOC news co-host, attended the prom and was excited about the overall enthusiasm. Standing on the side, he said, “It has tickled me to see the guests feel so comfortable among their peers and to have a prom where they are accepted. It’s wonderful for every one of them to be crowned king or queen of the prom. It’s spectacular to see that.”
Hoppa shared that he watched the buddies at the beginning of the evening. They looked a bit intimidated, not really knowing what to expect, but that changed quickly. “Now, we’re not even halfway through and they’re grinning, laughing, and dancing!” he said.
Standing with Hoppa, Stolle said, “As a dad, I’m grinning, laughing, and dancing too!”
Feature photo: Monica and her son, “J,” enjoy a special moment at the Gemstones Prom. Monica said, “The whole prom was wonderful — the music, the karaoke, the balloons! I’m so glad we didn’t have to miss it. I enjoyed myself so much and you can tell by his smile that J enjoyed himself thoroughly” (photo by Tom Stolle).
Sharon Mager is a BCM/D communications specialist and BaptistLIFE church correspondent.
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