Mary Hunnicutt works for an organization called Passages in Columbia City, a non-profit that provides services to clients with intellectual disabilities in the county.
During a discussion with various clients not long ago, Hunnicutt was surprised by a common disappointment they shared.
They all said the same thing, Hunnicutt said. They never got to go to the prom.
Her clients, who are mostly middle-aged now, had spent their high school years isolated in special classes, and didnt have the opportunities the rest of the students had, she said.
High school proms are different now. You dont have to have a date the way you did years ago. Students often go the prom in groups instead of with dates.
Wouldnt it be nice if Passages clients could have their own special night out, a semiformal dance, something unlike anything any of them had ever experienced, Hunnicutt thought?
Somehow – Hunnicutt isnt sure how – word just leaked out, and the makings of a belated prom started to fall into place.
A photographer offered to show up and take complimentary pictures, just the way they always did in high school. Everyone would get a 5-by-7 photo to commemorate the night.
The Whitley Community Foundation kicked in a donation for incidental expenses. Someone else offered to prepare invitations for free.
Thrift stores offered formal dresses for $1 each. The Fort Wayne Medical Society Alliance, which has a large stock of prom-type dresses, offered to provide dresses, and volunteers started combing secondhand shops for dresses. Larger sizes are needed. After all, the clients havent been in high school for a long time.
Hairdressers came forward and offered to provide complimentary services for dance-goers.
Mark Minnick, the pastor at Come 2 Go Ministries on Baker Street, where Hunnicutt goes to church, offered his church as a venue for the event. Theyd call it a Spring Gala instead of a prom.
Church members stepped forward offering to prepare the hors doeuvres for the occasion, and the church found a band to provide music.
Meanwhile, word about the planned affair leaked out among those who might want to attend. Not just people from Whitley County would attend. Mentally handicapped people from Fort Wayne and other places started asking whether they could come.
So far, about 180 people have signed up to attend.
Now, Minnick says, The word is out.
And how much will it cost?
Well, Hunnicutt says her budget right now is about $250, though Minnick says some others have kicked in small donations to be used as needed.
It will involve a lot of work. Volunteers will be needed for valet parking. There will need to be a reception line, and everyone will need a small corsage or boutonniere.
Just getting many of the clients ready to attend a meeting can be involved, so a lot of special care will be needed to get all the dance-goers ready for the event.
This is a huge thing for the mentally handicapped, Minnick said. One thing they never had was a special night out. Fort Wayne should be proud.