Jesus Prom embraces partygoers with special needs

It's first-ever event for people with special needs

By Keren Henderson Published:

Given the opportunity, Hershel Guttman, the most-decked out guest at Jesus Prom, took center stage and grabbed an electric guitar. Dressed in shades and a black suit, he was joined by several ladies with bamboo sticks and tambourines from the crowd.

Everyone on the dance floor cheered as though Guttman was really playing, and they continued to dance along.

Jesus Prom – a party unfamiliar to Frankfort until Friday night – is an over-the-top affair for people with special needs and their caregivers.

“Just seeing the joy on their faces – that’s what it’s all about,” said Laura Haydon, who organized the event at Capital City Christian Church with the help of about 350 volunteers. “Seeing how much fun everyone had was the best part.”

Nearly 150 special needs guests – most of whom were avid, uninhibited dancers – attended.

Jesus Prom – the brainchild of Southland Christian Church in Lexington – is now a favorite event for churches around the nation. Haydon said since it was her church’s first attempt, they made it less formal, choosing to throw an island-themed dinner and dance party.

Each guest had a volunteer/dance partner who stuck with them the whole night. Caregivers had their own area to relax. Very few, however, could stay away from the dance party.

Donna Couch couldn’t stop smiling as she watched her son, Chris, 27, out on the dance floor.

“He loves to dance with other people,” she said, adding that he often dances on his own at home. She’s his primary caregiver.

The Couches, who live in Versailles, attend Jesus Prom in Lexington every year, and Donna Couch said it’s good to have a second event in the area.

“Whoever put this together did a really great job,” said the grateful mom.

The sanctuary, renamed the Black Pearl Ballroom for the night, was carried away with the Pirates of the Caribbean theme. Band members, dressed as pirates, played with a replica Back Pearl in the background. Capt. Jack Sparrow impersonator Sam Boden was on hand and quickly became a crowd favorite.

Boden and other members of Capital City Christian spent a month building the replica ship, so impressive that other churches plan to borrow it for their events.

Midway through the night, volunteers burst from the ship and threw beach balls into the crowd, which kept them flying for the rest of the night.

Not every guest wanted to dance, so volunteers simply followed their leads. Volunteer Emily Mattingly sat with guest Patrick Leahy, 22, from Stewart Home School, over dinner longer than most. Leahy regaled her with his softball exploits as they ate chicken, corn, green beans, pizza and giant chocolate chip cookies.

When Leahy didn’t want to dance they simply sat at the edge of the commotion and watched.

Mattingly, new to the area, said she had heard of Jesus Prom in other cities, and was excited to be part of Frankfort’s first.

“It’s such a good event, and something my husband and I thought we’d be able to do,” Mattingly said.

Most volunteers were from the church, though others came from the community as well.

While guitarist Guttman stole the show, Capt. Jack Sparrow had the last words.

“Mates, you’re the treasure,” he said. “Remember that. Don’t forget what a treasure you are.”

Now that they have one Jesus Prom under their belts, organizers said they’re ready to go bigger and better next year. They expect more volunteers and more guests to climb aboard for “A Night in Paris.”

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