Special needs kings and queens get their own prom

M Resort, community groups partner as event draws hundreds


Sam Morris

Cinthia Nelson breaks out her dance moves during Joy Prom on Friday at M Resort.

Published Sat, May 9, 2009 (1:55 a.m.)

Updated Sat, May 9, 2009 (7:20 a.m.)

Spreading the Joy

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Members of the UNLV football team joined 450 other volunteers to help with Joy Prom, a special night for those with special needs.

Beyond the Sun

Former prom kings on this night were shining shoes. The former homecoming queen watched from the sidelines as others wore tiaras.

This was the night for the kids who sat at home -- or at a corner table -- on their prom nights.

The Joy Prom on Friday night at the M Resort provided a Vegas-style, Class A evening for 250 mentally and developmentally disabled residents.

"A lot of them didn't have the chance to go to prom and not have other kids judge them," said Lindsay Terrett, who brought 30 clients from the Down Syndrome Organization of Southern Nevada. "No one is in the corner. Everyone is dancing and having a good time."

The event was organized by LifeSong Church, which pulled together resources of 17 community partners, including M Resort, which dedicated its entire convention area to the event and provided food.

"We wanted to give back, no strings attached," LifeSong pastor Rev. Bobby Tyler said. "The community got on board. People said, 'If I don't have to be the point person, I'm in.'"

Former homecoming queen Lindy Marnell, now wife of M Resort owner Anthony Marnell III, said she was sold on the idea when she went to an initial organizational meeting and saw video of a Joy Prom held in another state. She showed the video to her husband, and M Resort was in.

She sat on a bench next to the red carpet set up for guests -- complete with fans and paparazzi at the ropes -- and smiled when the men in suits and silly grins posed for photos with two showgirls.

"This is much more exciting than any homecoming or prom," she said. She pointed at one of the men kissing the hand of a showgirl as evidence.

It even beats some of the high-dollar, fancy fundraisers she attends, which she said are wonderful events with generous people.

"I've just never laughed, then had tears in my eyes and then laughed again," she said.

More than 250 clients of Opportunity Village, the Down Syndrome Organization of Southern Nevada and New Vista Community, as well as some other special needs residents, arrived at the M Resort in their prom finery and were paired with volunteers who served as their escorts for the evening. The event drew 450 volunteers, Tyler said.

Women were whisked into the beauty parlor, where they received makeup, a touchup to their hair, tiaras if they wanted them, and a spray of glittery mist on their shoulders.

Men headed to an area set up for shoe shining. Members of the UNLV Rebel football team staffed the area.

Quarterback Les Obie, whose hands on most fall Friday nights are wrapped around pigskin, put the Rebels to work on shoe leather throughout the evening.

"It's humble duties, but I like it," Obie said. "We're treating them like kings and queens for the day. It's good to see the smiles on their faces."

Once they received that final shine, the guests were escorted to a room to receive flowers and to have photos taken.

Dawna Stevens, 25, waited in line with her boyfriend, Kenneth Hughes, 23. Both work in Transition Services, a nonprofit group that provides employment for the disabled. It was Stevens' first prom but Hughes' fourth.

"I didn't get to go to my first one, because it was too much money," Stevens said. "This one is free."

M Resort employees Jada Adams and Nicole Iaconetti, who were volunteering their time to escort the couple, said it was a Friday night well spent for them.

"This is nicer than my own prom was," Adams said.

"The most fun we've had on a Friday night," Iaconetti said.

Tyler said he would like to see the Joy Prom grow in future years to allow all special needs residents to attend. But for this year, it was enough to be a night to remember.

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