The end of the academic year is imminent, and the approach of the prom season enlivens teens’ routines. Prom is a very traditional event and highly anticipated by the youth. The tradition that marks the passage of adolescence to adulthood is unforgettable and because it involves teenagers, everything becomes a bit more distressing and nerve-wracking.
And what happens when they are students with special needs? It can be even more challenging to face that important event. And it was considering this aspect that two Danbury High School students had the idea to organize a prom for youth with special needs – who may not be able to attend the regular prom – to experience that moment just like any other adolescent.
The initiative to host a prom for individuals with special needs evolved from the engagement of seniors Gabriella Cardoso and Shivam Soni in the Danbury High School Unified Basketball program. It is a sports program of inclusion that promotes interaction between non-mainstream and mainstream students, in which they practice and play together.
The initial goal was to raise $500 and organize a simple reception at the school cafeteria. “We visited several local businesses and described our project. After walking for five straight hours, we came back home with $25. We contacted a few radio stations with the intent to have them announce the project, but we did not hear back from them. Then, we decided to raise money online. We created a page on Go Fund Me, and in a few hours, we were able to raise the original amount. Since donations online were successful, we decided to continue and organize a gala for the students,” explained Cardoso.
The event will be held on April 7 at a club in Danbury, and the students are really excited about the big day. “They are thrilled. The girls are talking about the dress they want to wear, their hairdo, nails, make-up. I am very happy, not just because of their happiness but because I hope our initiative will serve as an example for other adolescents to pursue their dreams and ideals,” said Cardoso, who since middle school has always been involved in volunteer work with children and youth with special needs.
Shivam Soni had no doubts when his friend Gabriella invited him to help with the prom project. “Because of my interaction with students through the Unified Basketball [program], I was really attracted by the concept of uniting non-disability with special needs students. It is not every day that you can say that the entire community is behind an event organized by two students in their last high school year. I am extremely happy with the donations and the support that we got,” Soni emphasized.
“We are graduating now, but I hope that this project will remain as an example for other young students in the school. We have a very diverse community and we want those young students to know that a dream can be achieved if you fight for it. We started out with $25, and we are [now] close to hosting a beautiful and remarkable ball for those teenagers. This is an example of how important is to continue fighting,” said Cardoso.
Danbury is home to a very diverse community, with people from many different nationalities, beliefs, ethnicities and social classes, who in that moment, will be uniting for something bigger. For Eliane Marassi, Gabriella Cardoso’s mother, the work of the two students is paramount for the community and it reflects the struggle and strength of the children of immigrants. “We are living in a time when people are often targeting immigrants. Gabriella comes from a family of immigrants and Shivam too. It is good for people in general to see that the immigrant community doesn’t just ask but also fights and gives its best to help everyone.”
The event organizers are expecting about 80 to 100 students to participate in the prom. The event is free of charge; therefore, every bit of help is welcome. To donate, please access the Go Fund Me link at www.gofundme.com/danbury-high-school-unified-prom, call (203) 456-5694 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.