Raindrops landing atop the arriving vehicles seemed to dance in unison with the music coming from within the La Verne Community Center. The night of the long awaited annual Sweetheart Dance had finally come, and the numerous smiles brought radiance despite the gloomy weather.
The dance held for those with special needs occurred Friday. The dance was previously labeled as an event for the “developmentally disabled” and has since been changed due to its insensitive nature and lack of inclusivity.
The community center has reduced the number of events held throughout the year, but the news did not bring discouragement. Participants far and wide gather on these days to reconnect with old friends and have an overall sense of normalcy.
“This is their one night to be free and not hidden,” said Mickey Perez of Bassett, whose son Rick perticipated in the event.
This seemed to be a shared opinion amongst the caretakers.
“I like events like this. It gives the guys and girls a chance to get out of the house and actually meet people,” said George Costandy of the Best Friends home facility.
Many of the individuals have gone their separate ways due to being a part of a group home, independent living, or in other living situations. Despite their separation, participants interacted with one another as if they had just seen each other yesterday.
With over 100 people in attendance, there was not one empty spot on the dance floor. All the participants mingled as they moved to the music of Michael Jackson and other popular artists provided by a live DJ.
Thanks to the volunteers who helped decorate the venue, the hall was a vision of pink and red. Glittering streamers hung from the ceiling and beautiful centerpieces covered the tables.
Participants were able to commemorate their time at the dance by taking pictures in a photo booth provided by student volunteers from Bonita High School.
If and when the participants found that they needed a break from tearing it up on the dance floor, they were able to help themselves to snacks and refreshments provided by the International Order of Alhambra, also known as the Alhambrans.
The Alhambrans are a 113-year-old organization that sets out to aide those with special needs in several aspects of their lives. The Order is able to provide education, residency and much more to individuals with special needs.
Although their roots are based in Catholicism, they are not exclusive to those who are Catholic. They assist any individual with special needs across the nation, with the heart of the Order being in Southern California, as well as extending its reach into Canada.
They also look to help those who also believe in their cause.
“We provide scholarships to students who are studying in the field of special education, either as teachers or service providers,” said Vince Braun, vice-supreme commander of the Order. They did disclose that the state of California does not allow them to make that distinction.
This specific regional location, or caravan, based in Monrovia has sponsored this event for several years.
In addition to all the assistance they do, the Order also holds an annual summer camp for those with special needs. If you are or know an individual who would like to attend this summer camp and are in need of financial assistance, please contact the order at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Mia López can be reached at email@example.com.