Community helping create prom memories for special needs kids

February 15, 2014
From left, Angela Thompson, principal of the Intermediate Unit I at East Franklin School in Waynesburg, and Ellen Guesman Boudreau of Rices Landing display articles of prom attire donated for a special needs prom to be held at the school in May. Boudreau’s sons are students at the school. - Tara Kinsell / Observer-Reporter Order a Print

WAYNESBURG – A simple Facebook post is turning into a wish come true for Ellen Guesman Boudreau of Rices Landing, providing her with the opportunity to see her sons, Petie and Jacques, both who have autism, attend a prom.

Boudreau’s sons attend the Intermediate Unit 1 Educational Campus at East Franklin in Waynesburg, a school for children with special needs. Boudreau said she was joking around with a friend that one day their children would go to prom together and then she saw a story about a special needs prom on the news. Later, a friend posted a photo of their son attending a special needs prom.

“I thought, ‘Why not?’’ I approached Ang (Angela Thompson, principal at the school) and she thought it was a great idea,” Boudreau said. “I put a post on Facebook, and it is amazing what one Facebook post can do.”

All of a sudden Boudreau was receiving offers of donated gowns, suits, and even a pledge from local DJ Dave Plavi to provide music. There is still a long way to go to get ready for the event that will be held in May, but clearly the community is supportive, Boudreau said. She and Thompson hope even more community members and local businesses join in to make the event a memorable one.

Thompson said she plans for this to be a very traditional prom.

“I want to do the whole nine yards – hair, make-up, suits and gowns. I am going to contact the local school districts and see when their proms are and if they can donate decorations after their proms,” Thompson said.

Although students with special needs have an option to attend proms in the school districts in which they live, Thompson said it can be uncomfortable for them. As they attend classes at East Franklin they may not know many of the other students at such events.

“Probably the biggest expense will be the decorations. We will hold the prom here at the school during regular hours and coordinate with the districts so they can be here all day with the dance in the afternoon,” Thompson said. “It will be for the students in seventh through 12th grades to stick with that whole prom feel.”

The school services students from Washington, Fayette and Greene counties in kindergarten through 12th grade. Students have the option of attending graduation ceremonies there or with their class at their home school district. Thompson said most opt to stay at East Franklin and wear the caps and gowns provided by the district in which they live.

With all of the snow days causing cancelations, the planning of the prom has been slowed down a bit, but Boudreau and Thompson hope to get everything in place quickly.

“If there is a photographer who would be willing to donate their time that would be fabulous,” Thompson said. “Anybody interested in doing hair or make-up and who would donate that time, that would be great, too. I’d love to see lights and a bubble machine, all of the little stuff you see at a prom to really make this special for them.”

There will be a nice lunch for the promgoers at school and then lighter fare served during the dance. Boudreau said she has heard from friends and neighbors with offers bake cookies and cupcakes. Thompson is hoping someone will step forward with some finger sandwiches and other simple munchies for the students as well.

“I’m so happy that all these people want to help. My brother works at Ruby Memorial Hospital and the nurses there have said they would donate things,” Boudreau said. “It has been amazing all of the response I’ve had from people.”

Tara Kinsell started her career in journalism with the National Geographic Insider Magazine and the Gaithersburg Gazette Newspaper in Montgomery County, Md. Tara has written and photographed sports, features and news stories for the Herald Standard, Greene County Messenger and Albert Gallatin Weekly. She holds degrees in journalism and graphic design from Waynesburg College, now Waynesburg University, and the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, respectively.

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