STOCKTON — When Beverly Gunderson arrived to the small room at United Cerebral Palsy where dozens of gowns waited to be chosen, she already knew what she wanted.
“I need a short dress because I’m going to dance with Patrick,” the 24-year-old told staff.
After a search, Gunderson found her gown: a short, vibrant pink and orange bedazzled dress with thin straps and a billowy skirt.
Gunderson is attending her first prom next month.
UCP and University of the Pacific’s Xi Chi Sigma fraternity are hosting the inaugural Spark of Night prom for people with disabilities. The dance will be from 6-9 p.m. Oct. 29 in the DeRosa Ballroom at Pacific.
The idea for UCP to host a dance in Stockton came from Angela Amaral, a UCP manager, after learning about former NFL player Tim Tebow’s similar event in Livermore, said Corinne Seaton, director for adult programs and services at UCP.
During the initial planning of the event, UCP staff realized the majority of their clients weren’t familiar or exposed to the high school ritual.
“We’d go to clients and ask if they were going to prom and it took us four days to realize they didn’t know what prom is,” said Debbie Jungeblut, executive administrative assistant at UCP. “It’s not a concept they have in their minds.”
Organizers said they decided to host the event because they wanted clients to feel special and get the full experience of prom, which includes finding that special dress.
Last week, about two dozen women and girls had the opportunity to choose their dresses from the more than 100 gowns available for free at UCP.
Seaton said Jacqueline Faylor of Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo, a nonprofit that provides prom dresses and tuxes for high school girls and boys who otherwise could not afford to buy them, allowed UCP to use dresses Faylor had in storage.
Last Wednesday, Gunderson and 36-year-old Jessica Robertson stopped by in the afternoon to find their frocks. Robertson was set on finding a blue or black dress and after trying on a handful of gowns, she found it.
“I like it. It’s my favorite color,” she said of the strapless, sky-blue knee-length dress she chose.
Robertson said she’s never been to prom and hadn’t worn a dress since she was a baby, so she was excited to dress up, paint her nails, put on makeup and dance with friends.
“It’s fabulous to see the girls, and even the boys, get excited,” Jungeblut said.
Prior to the dance, volunteers will be applying makeup and styling the hair of the women for free, and during the event, a photographer will be taking their photographs at no cost.
UCP, which also services people with autism and brain injuries, wants to get rid of any obstacles, such as cost, for people who are interested in attending the prom, Seaton said. The only requirements are that the main guests must be 16 or older and have a disability, but they are allowed to bring one guest.
Seaton said the ballroom has a 350-person capacity and they want to reach that number. So far, about 80 people have reserved their spot, but UCP will be reaching out to the Stanislaus County chapter of UCP.
UCP plans to make the prom an annual event to give people with disabilities an experience they don’t often receive, Seaton said.
People who want to attend the prom have until Sept. 30 to reserve their free tickets. For reservations or for help finding a gown or tuxedo, call Angela Amaral at (209) 834-3282.
— Contact reporter Almendra Carpizo at (209) 546-8264 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @AlmendraCarpizo.