Community rallies to make Special Education prom a night to remember

Published 3:41 pm Tuesday, May 3, 2022

LAPLACE — East St. John’s special education prom/social will have an upgraded venue this year as community groups rally to give a deserving group of kids a red-carpet experience.

Rotary Club of LaPlace presented a $500 check to the ESJ special education staff to cover expenses associated with the prom, which will be held May 14 at Belle Terre Country Club. Meanwhile, the newly formed Kiwanis Club of the Tri-Parishes is providing hair and make-up services, décor, a 360 photo booth and more to give the special education children a night to shine.

While the students are always invited to attend East St. John’s junior/senior prom, special education Department Chair Rhyshique Williams said this event takes students’ sensory needs into consideration with toned down music and lighting. The special education prom is a family-friendly social event that allows parents, siblings, grandparents and friends to join in the fun and dance the night away.

“Our goal has always been to provide an atmosphere that’s homey and inviting. When it’s your own, you are comfortable,” Williams said.

Hurricane Ida damage to the East St. John main campus limited options for cost-effective venues. Special education parent Jennifer Frizzell reached out to Semi Wadhwa of Belle Terre Country Club about hosting the special event.

Wadhwa, a member of Kiwanis Club of the Tri Parishes, saw an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of local children.

“Kiwanis has just been established. We are all about kids, so what better way to start off than by helping the special needs kids?” Wadhwa said.

Several Kiwanis members have stepped up to the plate to make this year’s prom a night to remember. Sandi Lambert, Regina Vicknair, Georgelyn Martin, Dru W. Zeno and Robin Bailey have volunteered to provide hair and makeup for the girls onsite before the social. Marchelle Washington is providing Paparazzi jewelry, while Ronnie Fiest of the West St. John Civic Association is bringing a 360-degree photobooth for the kids. Gene Franques, sales consultant for L’OBSERVATEUR, will be the official photographer of the event and will also donate 35 backpacks to be filled with prom night keepsakes. Mardi Gras beads and masks are being provided to bring the “Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler” theme to life.

“Everybody has really embraced this event. It’s amazing how many good people there are in this world willing to help and come forward,” Wadhwa said. “We want people to know what Kiwanis is, and we encourage people to come forward and join us on our mission for the generation of tomorrow. It takes a community, a village to raise a kid, and that’s what we’re trying to do one child at a time.”

Lucien Gauff, president of Rotary Club of LaPlace, was pleased to present a $500 donation at Belle Terre Country Club last week. According to Gauff, this new partnership extends Rotary’s commitment to humanitarian, educational and service programs in the community and beyond.

“When there’s a need, this is what Rotarians do. We’re here to serve our community. It’s all about service before self,” he said.

This year marks the first special education prom/social since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Donna Duhe is looking forward to attending the prom/social with her granddaughter, Angelle.

“I came to the prom at East St. John prior to the pandemic, and it was beautiful. Angelle had the time of her life,” Duhe said. “Usually, she would be shy about dancing, but she danced around the whole night with her friends. Being dressed up made her feel good. It’s something different for these kids.”

East St. John instructor Melissa Robinson said a strong bond exists between all of the special education families, and that bond has now extended to include the community.

Special education parent Summer Stevenson said her sons look forward to the annual event.

“They like the socialization. It’s about everyone getting together and just being able to have something for themselves. There’s not very much offered in this area for our kids to do, so it’s good to get them together,” she said.

Stevenson added that this year’s prom will be bittersweet given the recent loss of Alexis Duhe, a former student whose smile always lit up the room.