A starry night to remember

Berkeley Township Local 237 members host a prom for children with special needs

By Esther Gonzales

Dressed in sparkly dresses and suits and ties, a group of 65 elementary and middle school students with special needs entered the Bayville Fire Department on June 2. As the children entered the large room, which had been transformed into A Starry Night Prom, Berkeley Township Local 237 members eagerly greeted them.

Immediately, Local 237 members were surrounded by children asking to take a photo with them against the backdrop of red balloons. Off to the side of the dance floor, Local 237 State Delegate Chris Shick played music as the evening’s DJ.

Suddenly, one nonverbal little boy walked up to Shick. He pinched his lips together and blew him a kiss. Then he crossed his arms, motioning the sign for hug in American Sign Language.

Shick recounted how the little boy continued expressing his gratitude throughout the evening, blowing kiss after kiss and motioning the sign for hug. That special moment seemed to show just how grateful these children were to have a prom created especially for them.

“You could just tell how much it really affected that child in a positive way,” Shick expressed. “It brought me back to earth. I am appreciative of what I have. I’m humbled, and it just showed me the gratitude that people have and just for a small ounce of kindness.”

After Local 237 President Don Rowley had a chance encounter with a local resident who runs an organization called Mikey’s Mission for children with special needs and who had the idea for a prom night, Rowley offered support right away. When he brought the idea to members, they didn’t hesitate to volunteer their time. Rowley even gained donations from local businesses that offered to provide food for the special night, and the Bayville Fire Department volunteered to provide the location.

The evening was completely designed for the children, many of whom are on the autism spectrum, and included a room set aside with quiet activities, like coloring, for those with sensory issues.

Rowley noted that this is a perfect example of how Local 237 members go above and beyond to serve their community.

“When you give us a good cause, we’re going to rally around it,” Rowley explained. “This was just such a good cause for everybody to jump in, and we want to do this again next year. We have to try to make it a little bit bigger and better next year and do whatever we can to keep this going.”

At first, Rowley admitted, he didn’t know exactly what to expect. He thought maybe there would be 20 children at most. However, the evening quickly became bigger than he imagined, with more than 100 people in attendance.

And when Rowley saw the smiles on the children’s faces as they danced to the music, he knew this was an impactful night, not just for these children but for members as well.

“To be honest, we were nervous going in,” Rowley submitted. “As it went on, you just saw how happy some of these kids were and how much they were into it. You could not help but get into it and enjoy it with them, watching them sing and dance, and you just couldn’t help but become part of it. All the nerves that we had going in just kind of dissipated, and it was like, ‘This really was a good idea.’”

At one point in the evening, as Shick continued to play music, he was approached by a little girl.

“I want my friend to sing,” Shick said she told him.

“I said, ‘OK, what do you want him to sing?’ And she said, ‘This Girl Is On Fire.’”

With a smile, Shick began playing the song she requested. As soon as the music started, the little boy belted out the words. He sang every word, and everyone in the room clapped, cheered and rose to their feet celebrating him. Then he got down on his knee and asked the little girl to marry him.

It was the highlight of the night for Shick, who had seemed to feel the joy radiating from these children from the moment they entered the room.

“It was very humbling to see just how much fun and appreciation that these children could have to somebody putting an event like this together,” Shick added. “They can’t attend a prom because of the noise and certain restrictions and situations. So having this designed to be built towards their needs, they were very appreciative towards that.”