TAMPA - On Saturday, April 23, they got ready like anyone else would for their prom. Tuxedos were buttoned, hair was styled and nails were painted. For some of them, it wasn’t their first prom, but it was just as special.
St. James United Methodist Church hosted their 7th Annual Red Carpet Affair on April 23 in the sanctuary, under balloons, lights and the sounds of laughter. Almost 280 special needs adults, ranging from age 16 to 52, and their caregivers attended the Red Carpet Affair for a night of fun, food and dancing. For some it was also a night of hope.
“Many of us graduate high school and move on to new social structures,” said Carlene Barbeau, who started volunteering with the Red Carpet Affair in 2012 because of the joy it gave her brother Matt. “But in the special needs community, graduating high school often leads to a lack of a social world. We host the Red Carpet Affair to remind our friends that they are special, beautiful in their unique ways, and can still have a whole lot of fun in life. Plus, the volunteers have a blast too.”
Since January, a team of 10 volunteers have gathered to make it a night to remember. Their goal: to make their special needs friends feel like the celebrities they are. A Diva Room gave women a place to get their hair done by professional stylists, makeup by makeup artists and eat shrimp and chocolate covered strawberries during a manicure. The sanctuary was transformed with light walls, balloon sculptures and floral arrangements. Live Fusion Entertainment blasted some of the most popular songs on the radio, and lights spun and flashed. Every guest that arrived was cheered into the event on the Red Carpet. Two professional photographers captured smiles in portraits that guests went home with, but that was all only part of the magic.
The true beauty of the night was in community. A community of 120 volunteers, from age 12 to 91, gathered together to cut carrots, dance, hug and create a community for those that are sometimes forgotten. And that community was rooted in love; love for our differences and love that we all enjoy a great conga line. And a great conga line it was!