LYNDHURST, N.J. -- Going to prom is a rite of passage for most teens. But what if a school has no prom? This is often the case for kids who have special needs, according to the Lyndhurst founder of a special "Extreme Prom" event held annually in the region.
Deborah Christiana Wertalik and daughter, Tara Banuls, both of Lyndhurst, added the prom five years ago to Special Angels Recreation, an organization they founded 11 years ago when Banuls' son Tyler, now 15, was four.
It offers a roster of extra-curricular activities and special events for kids who have special needs. After-school activities include soccer, flag football, cheerleading and dance. Events range from a Christmas party and Halloween "trick and trunk" for parents, and the Extreme Prom held annually in July, Wertalik told the Daily Voice.
About 80 youth are expected to attend this year's prom set for Thursday, July 28 at the Bethwood in Totowa.
A pre-prom activity includes girls' hair and makeup by local stylists, all volunteers, then everyone will be taken to the venue on party buses for a buffet dinner, replete with photo-booth and DJ and dancing.
The girls will all get corsages, and sweets and treats are among giveaways.
Special Angels fills a niche in the area, she said, for kids with special needs, especially ones that go to schools outside their home districts.
The sometimes distant schools often preclude attending after-school activities, and even play-dates, Wertalik said.
"These kids (often) get on a bus and travel a half-hour or more. The (parents) see them off on the bus. Basically, the kids go to and from school every day and come home. The parents never meet. And the kids lack social interaction that transcends around school. The prom came about to fill that social need. The nice thing is kids can attend year after year," said Wertalik.
"We even have a few (couples) that have become boyfriend and girlfriend at the prom." Parents too have benefitted from the annual dinner-dance, she continued.
"Some have become friends through the event and helped each other through (difficult) situations."
The prom expenses are paid for from tickets ($40), business owners, and volunteers, along with fundraiser like coin tosses she and her daughter run regularly, said Wertalik.
To date, 250 kids have taken part in Special Angels Recreation.
For more information about the upcoming prom and Special Angels, see its website.
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