Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Dancing the Morn Away Special Needs Students from Area Live It Up at Their Daytime Prom

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Dancing the Morn Away Special Needs Students from Area Live It Up at Their Daytime Prom

Article excerpt

Max Mangum, a freshman at Carlynton Junior-Senior High School, throws his hands in the air and sings along to the chorus of Usher's "DJ Got Us Fallin' in Love" in the Grand Ballroom of the Omni William Penn Hotel.

"Dancing soothes your soul," he says with a smile. "It makes me happy to be here. It makes me feel good to have friends."

Max, who has autism, was one of more than 150 students from 13 Pittsburgh-area high schools who crowded the dance floor Wednesday morning during a prom held exclusively for students with intellectual disabilities.

Although it took place at a different time of day, the prom for disabled students was much like the proms their classmates have attended in recent weeks. There was loud music, accompanied by clusters of eager teenagers navigating the room to socialize, take pictures with one another and drink punch.

The annual event, fully funded by donations from vendors and organizations, gives disabled students the chance to experience prom with their peers, without the social pressures that exist in regular prom settings, said Colleen Geletko, event planner and director of marketing at Hello Productions.

On Wednesday, prom attendees could get their picture taken by Josh Mariana Photography, receive colorful corsages from Fragile Paradise Florist and dance to jams from professional disc jockey Kelli Burns.

Most girls wore dresses, shoes and accessories from Project Prom, with makeup applied by students from the South Hills and North Hills Beauty Academy. The academy also provided haircuts for the boys.

Ms. Geletko said contributing vendors were "so interested and eager to be involved" because the students deserve a traditional prom experience.

"When you walk in there and you see the kids, it will make you smile for a week," Ms. Geletko said. "They hit the dance floor and they don't get off of it until we make them [stop] for lunch. …

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