Malik Turner, 16, a junior at Middletown High School, was too excited to oversleep on a recent Saturday morning. Malik and his classmates were about to attend “One Special Night,” a formal dance for students with disabilities.
Malik, who has autism, couldn’t wait to get dressed up and wear his rented tuxedo, his mother said.
“That was the highlight of the day,” she said.
But certainly not the last.
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Berachah Church hosted the pre-dance party and all 30 MHS students were crowned kings and queens, then they walked the red carpet to a handicapped-accessible trolley that drove them up Breiel Boulevard to the Verity Lodge on the Miami University Middletown campus.
The night concluded with the students releasing Chinese lanterns.
“One Special Night” showed the positive power that can be generated with an entire community works for the good of its residents. Middletown firefighters and police officers, Team Fastrax, Middletown-based skydivers, and Armbruster’s Florist were some of the sponsors; and an army of volunteers worked throughout the evening.
The students were treated to a night they — and their parents — never will forget.
Kumar said attending a formal dance is a “right of passage” for high schools students, but because some have special needs, they miss out on certain memories.
“As parents, you want your child to have all the experiences,” Kumar said. “I’ll tell you this: There were a lot of tears.”
MHS Principal Carmela Cotter attended the event and called it “a very special evening.”
She said the dance was originally conceived as a learning opportunity for social skill development, but it turned into a confidence building, student celebrating extravaganza. With the assistance from Berachah and volunteers from Young Life and church members, MHS students were “made to feel important and valued during a memorable evening,” she said.
Sarah Knapp, one of the MHS special needs teachers who organized the event, called it “a true privilege” to be a part of the night. She said the students practiced their social skills and were given “royal treatment.”
Middletown graduate and Chicago Cubs left fielder Kyle Schwarber also welcomed the students in a video message.
“This is awesome that everyone there is going to be kings and queens,” Schwarber said. “I just want to say enjoy the event, enjoy the food, enjoy the drinks. Everyone have a great night.”
As Berachah’s senior pastor and father of a daughter with special needs, Lamar Ferrell had an interesting perspective on the evening. His daughter, Elley, 15, was born with spina bifida and she attended the dance with her boyfriend.
Sometimes, Ferrell said, students with special needs are “overlooked.”
But on this one night, they were celebrated.
“It was incredible,” Ferrell said. “It was powerful. To see the kids wearing their crowns and dressed so nice. They felt like royalty. We got to help those who are often forgotten. They got to do what mainstream students do. We encouraged the hearts and lives of these students.”
As so often is the case with Ferrell, he already is thinking bigger and better. He hopes Berachah hosts the dance every year and invites students with special needs from Madison, Franklin, Monroe, Edgewood and Carlisle high schools.
Malik Turner’s mother said she is already looking forward to next year’s dance when her son is a senior.
“Not one thing went wrong,” his mother said of the dance. “It was perfect.”