Local prom opens invite list to ‘everyone’ to promote inclusiveness

WASHINGTON — Long dresses, braided hairstyles and limo rides are top of mind for most high school students come May. After all, it’s prom season, and the springtime event is a rite-of-passage for teens.

But not everyone gets the opportunity to get caught up in the excitement.

“What we have found is that many of our students [with disabilities] are not invited to their own high school proms,” said Karen Glasser, regional director of the nonprofit Best Buddies.

That is why the organization, which promotes social inclusion and employment opportunities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, decided to throw its own prom — and everyone is invited.

The Capital Region Best Buddies Prom, now in its third year, is part prom, part fundraiser and a whole lot of party.

On Friday, May 13, students in sparkling gowns and wrist corsages will be bussed in from local schools to D.C.’s iconic Carnegie Library for an evening of dancing. While teens let loose to tunes from DJ Neekola and emcee Tommy McFly, adults are invited to attend a ticketed reception featuring an open bar, chef-prepared bites and a silent auction.

Glasser says the prom is all about being inclusive.

“It’s students with and without disabilities; it’s everybody, and that’s the point of the program … We want everybody to join. We want everybody to be kind to everyone else and realize that everybody has something to offer,” she said.

Maraena Allen-Lewis has been involved in Best Buddies for several years. The senior at George Mason High school in Falls Church, Virginia, says the appeal of the prom is the sense of community it creates.

“You know the cliché of ‘dance like nobody’s watching?’ That is the epitome of Best Buddies Prom,” Allen-Lewis said. “You can be who you are and have fun and get dressed up and go to prom, but at the same time, be surrounded by some of the most genuine and open-minded and caring people that you’ve ever met.”

Allen-Lewis’ former buddy, junior Haley Meade, will also be in attendance on Friday. Meade will come to the prom wearing a purple dress — and a chef’s hat.

This year, local chefs from the D.C. food community will pair up with students with disabilities to whip up sweet and savory bites for the VIP reception. Meade is working with chef Christianne Ricchi of iRicchi Restaurant on an antipasto skewer appetizer.

“That is to highlight and showcase what our students with disabilities can do,” Glasser said about the chef-student collaboration.

Tickets to the prom are $20 for students, $100 for adults; funds raised from the event support ongoing Best Buddies programming — like the peer-to-peer matching component that brought Allen-Lewis and Meade together a few years ago.

“It’s just a really great opportunity on both ends to get a feeling for a new friendship that you might not have had in the first place and just experience new social opportunities that both ends may not receive without a program like Best Buddies,” Allen-Lewis said.  

What: The third annual Best Buddies Prom
Where: Carnegie Library, 801 K St., NW
When: Friday, May 13; 6:30 — 8 p.m. VIP reception for adults, 7:30 — 11 p.m. doors open for students and general ticket holders
Tickets: Visit Best Buddies’ website.

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