This special guest post is by Delaney Caldwell, a Charlotte teen with a big heart and a gift for sharing it. We asked for her thoughts about her recent volunteering experience with Joy Prom. Thanks Delaney!
Joy Prom is an annual prom with dancing, desserts, a red carpet and more, all for people with special needs. This event happens on an April weekend once a year. It came to be when Carmel Baptist Church’s student ministry asked, “if we ceased to exist, would anyone in Charlotte notice?”
The idea of Joy Prom was birthed from a certain Bible verse, stating that “when you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends...if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed” (Luke 12-14). Many of these people miss out on this special time because regular high school dances aren’t equipped to handle their medical and physical needs. Now, because of the generosity of thousands, they can have the experience.
The first thing I noticed while standing on the side of the red carpet were the smiles. Every person to walk down that carpet had the happiest, most joyful grins I have ever seen. As we cheered for them, the smiles grew even wider as they high fived and twirled around. on their way to J As I looked out the window to my side, I saw the line stretched all the way down the sidewalk. Over a thousand people would attend, and registration had filled up in under six minutes.
One by one, the crowd of volunteers thinned down as each one was pulled aside and assigned a guest to escort, girl with boys and boys with girls. After clapping and cheering until my hands were numb and my voice was hoarse, I was pulled aside to meet my guest, Joshua. Joshua didn’t talk much, but he understood everything. He was one of the few that didn’t smile, but in his eyes you could tell he was happy. Giving me a sideways glance, he quickly shuffled straight to the dance floor.
As I jogged to catch up, I tried to ask questions about what he liked and his family. Nope, the dance floor was the only thing that Joshua wanted on his mind right now. We walked lap after lap around the gym, watching other hosts and their guests dance in all their different styles. The best part was, no one judged. At a regular dance, you’re either good or bad, right or wrong. At Joy Prom, there was no such thing as awkward.
Occasionally, Joshua would pull my hand towards a girl he thought was pretty in an attempt to ask me to introduce him to her. It took me a few times to get it, but as I introduced him, he was already shuffling away, too shy to say anything. With some (a lot) of help, I finally steered Joshua over to the dessert tables, where I chatted with his caretaker and he watched the videos on my phone over and over again. Finally! A smile! Sometimes he would grab my hand to show me the apparently hilarious videos of my sister whipping her hair in slow motion or my dog squeaking a toy.
When the night finally ended, Joshua left with his caretaker and mom without a glance or a word, but Joy Prom was still one of the most eye opening experiences of my life, leading me to seek out more volunteer opportunities like it. Obviously all special needs people are not like little kids. The spectrum is unbelievably huge, and it takes understanding, empathy, and a truckload of patience, but volunteering with special needs is worth it, and all of that happiness started at Joy Prom.