Editor’s note: Shane Geisheimer was part of the team that put together The Heart of Rock and Roll Prom earlier this month in Cleveland. We share their team’s story to illustrate that special events like a Prom aren’t limited to megachurches with vast facilities and thousands of potential volunteers…the vision for this event came from five young adults in a small church located in an economically disadvantaged area of the region. Also, the story of Shane and their team offers a roadmap to help others interested in staging a similar event to help others get a little taste of the Kingdom here on Earth. Here’s Shane…
On August 15th, The Heart of Rock and Roll Prom was held at Garfield Memorial United Methodist Church in Pepper Pike, Ohio. This event included over 150 honored guests, ages 16 and over with special needs and disabilities and was a night to remember.
But this event that was almost a year in the making took root several years ago at the Vineyard Prom in Cincinnati. Stu Tracy was a student in the Cincinnati area who hailed from Northeast Ohio. He volunteered as a Prom escort for a guest with special needs. The impact of that night on him was profound and he was inspired to look for a way to hold a similar event back home.
Hope United Methodist Church was formed in 2013, as three former United Methodist churches came together as a new congregation. Stu was a member of one of these congregations. Soon after the formation of this new church, Stu was involved in starting up a new young adults group within Hope called All Communities Together (ACT). ACT is a service-based ministry for young adults that is about “Action”, tying people together through the ministry of Jesus Christ.
Stu developed a heart for persons with special needs through his experiences. Many of the other young adults in the group had a former teacher (Patricia Parker) who has a son with special needs. Through Patricia’s unique experience as a parent and caregiver she was inspired and led by the Lord to form Resource, Education and Community Help Services (REACH) along with Jane Riley, who is also a parent and caregiver to a child with Special Needs. REACH Services is a grassroots organization whose mission is to provide information, education and support to families of children with disabilities and to assist them in identifying and accessing social service and faith-based organizations in their community.
An initial hurdle was how to stage this type of event. While Hope UMC is a smaller congregation of under 200 members, the church building presented challenges in accommodating the number of guests that might participate in a special needs prom.
Down the road from Hope in Pepper Pike is Garfield Memorial United Methodist Church. Garfield is one of the largest UMC churches in the Cleveland area and is among the most multicultural congregations in the region. Garfield’s mission statement is: To Widen the Circles of Christ’s Love, In Our Hearts and Lives, In Our Community, and Throughout the World.
When we reached out to Pastors Chip Freed and Terry McHugh at GUMC, we were met with open arms about our idea for a prom and assured that this type of ministry fell squarely within the core values of their church.
Garfield Memorial is a growing congregation in the midst of launching a second campus through a merger with South Euclid Hillcrest United Methodist Church. A large scale renovation was taking place at Garfield’s main campus in Pepper Pike where the event would be held. While our initial thought was to leverage the excitement around prom season and hold an event in May, the timeline for the construction at GUMC pushed our plans back to summer. The delay contributed to the success of the Prom and in retrospect, was clearly was part of God’s plan. One component of the renovation resulted in the facility becoming more accessible to persons with physical disabilities.
The partnership between Hope United Methodist Church and Garfield Memorial was forged and a new planning team was created, combining the enthusiasm of the young adults from ACT in pursuing their dream with the resources of both churches.
To gain experience for the Prom the members of ACT volunteered at a similar event in Wadsworth, Ohio (The Jesus Prom) which will become an annual Fall event, hosted by Northside Christian Church. This was their first experience of hosting a prom. Pastor Seth Amerine gave us a massive download after the event and the knowledge received was very helpful.
Having researched the Vineyard Prom, we found Key Ministry. They offered consultants to help us prepare for the event and provided templates for staging our “Party with a Purpose.” Their resources served as the blueprint and model that we followed.
I reached out to Dr. Steve Grcevich from Key Ministry and soon he was providing us with contacts to individuals and groups that he felt could be of great assistance. I met many through the Special Needs and Disabilities Ministry Leaders Forum on Facebook. I was blown away by the many local resources that existed in our own backyard in Northeast Ohio as well as by those from across the country who offered resources and were excited by the project we were about to undertake.
Our journey continued as we rallied support from both congregations and began reaching out to other churches in the community and leveraged the resources of the United Methodist Church, including roadshow visits on Sunday mornings at local churches and a presentation before more than 2,500 delegates at the East Ohio Annual Conference.
Before any guests could be invited, several components of our plan needed to be well underway. Most importantly, we needed volunteers to serve in many areas of need. Our volunteer force grew to over 200 in a few short months. We needed to solicit donations in order to make the Prom available as a free event for our honored guests, including donations of cash merchandise and services. We wanted to make sure that every guest who didn’t have a dress, suit or appropriate formalwear for the occasion was covered – so we embarked on what would become a large-scale Formalwear Donations Campaign that ultimately yielded over 300 garments from the community.
Our next challenge was to engage groups and organizations that could help us to identify and invite guests to The Heart of Rock and Roll Prom. We launched an awareness/advertising campaign resulting in connections with over 70 different organizations in Northeast Ohio.
To enhance this campaign, we gained visibility by attending local events promoted by Special Olympics, The Upside of Downs Buddy Walk and 95.5 The Fish’s Special Needs, Special Families event. We were able to meet many of the guests who would attend the Prom, along with their families, caregivers and other advocates for persons with special needs. This was a beautiful example of the church “leaving the building” and meeting people where they are.
The event began to fall in place after months of preparation.
Donations began pouring in and included monetary donations, flowers, prizes, lighting for our venue, nursing staff coverage from the Cleveland Clinic, food for 600 people from local Chick-fil-A franchisees and much more. Volunteer registration continued and by August 15th (the night of the event), we had recruited more than 300 volunteers to serve as Prom staff or escorts for our guests. Guest registration continued and ultimately, we signed up over 150 guests. As part of our volunteer registration process, the Cleveland Clinic donated background check services to screen all volunteer escorts to ensure a safe environment for our guests.
During the two weekends leading up to The Heart of Rock and Roll Prom, we held formalwear fittings for the guests to select gowns, dresses, suits, tuxes and clothing free of charge that they were able to keep following the event. Our formalwear team included seamstresses to alter the garments for each guest.
The construction crew at Garfield Memorial was working at a fever pitch to focus on and complete the area designed to serve The Heart of Rock and Roll so that we could welcome our guests into the newly renovated building. Drop cloths and sawdust were a major part of the scenery around GMC up to the day of the event. But it all came together and we even got Frogtape to donate delicate surface tape so that we didn’t leave a scratch on the new paint job with all of the decorations for Prom.
- The Family Life Center/Gymnasium, where we held the prom including a DJ, live Band and food.
- A games area that featured a game of “Deal or No Deal” in the church’s new Children’s Theater, Mini-Putt Putt Course donated by Firefly’s Mini Golf, Cornhole, Twister, Ring Toss and a video game area with a Wii and Xbox donated by Best Buy.
- A picture area where professionals photographed each guest and their escort to create a keepsake that will preserve the memories of the event to last a lifetime.
- A prize vault where we had gifts and toys that were donated. Each guest was invited to select from the prize vault, as there were no “losers” on this night.
- A quiet room, where guests could chill and step away from the high energy, lights and music for a while and the room that featured beanbag chairs and movies.
In addition, REACH Services facilitated a Caregiver Resource Room that featured information from over 30 different organizations and resources in the community, as well as a full view into the gymnasium where caregivers could watch their loved ones having the time of their lives. Both Patricia Parker and Jane Riley from REACH were on hand to network with caregivers and parents and held a free raffle featuring gift baskets donated from all across the community.
During the afternoon of the Prom, we offered a free salon set-up in the chapel of GUMC, run by cosmetology students from the Paul Mitchell School. Our female guests were in the majority among those who participated in this free event (as one might expect). The beauty that was shining in the room was priceless. It was the most heavenly salon in the world!
To open our event, we created a star-studded environment that rivaled any Hollywood affair. Paparazzi lined a 75 foot red carpet that each guest strolled down after they were paired up with their volunteer escorts while background music played. Some guests arrived in stretch limos. The energy in this room was amazing as each guest was cheered with thunderous applause while flash bulbs were going off from photographers and cameras from Fox 8 News in Cleveland recorded the event.
The love that was shown by our volunteers for each guest was a sight to behold. God’s plan had come together and the night was underway as the kings and queens of the prom had arrived!
Every part of the building was buzzing with games being played, music thumping through speakers and a tremendous amount of smiles and laughter. The roar of the crowd in the gymnasium was deafening at times as both the live band and DJ played up to the guests – encouraging many to hop on stage with them and join in the party. By then we had almost 600 people in the building.
But this night wouldn’t be complete without a little more icing on the cake. In the Children’s Theater we had dance instructors who taught the guests and their escorts a few line dances that would be performed in the gymnasium at the end of the night. To everyone’s delight (and as one might expect), the guests were showing up the escorts with their fantastic dance moves – including the new line dances they learned. I think at one point, there were more people on stage than on the dance floor. It rivaled the best concert you’ve ever been to!
But like every great night, it eventually had to come to an end – even though we didn’t want it to. A sea of love moved through the exits as our guests were met by their parents, caregivers and families to take them home from a Night they Will Never Forget!
The saddest part of this entire process was the tear down, because we knew that this journey had come to an end for now. We had achieved the goal and showed love and compassion toward so many. But maybe the best is yet to come?
Speaking with volunteers after the event it was clear that there was a mutual receiving of God’s love that night and so many new friendships were started and hearts were opened up to those with special needs, many of whom hadn’t experienced this before.
Through this experience, I can personally say that we were touched and blessed by so many. I know that what had started a year ago had now been finished with the first “ACT” of what may become an incredible story for awareness and advocacy for persons with special needs here in Northeast Ohio. That night we counted the blessings by 600!
All of the volunteers, including the five young adults who cast the vision for the Prom, opened their hearts and minds to the possibilities when so many work toward a common goal in the Kingdom of Heaven. As Pastor Chip said, “you will see a slice of Heaven on Earth!”
Interested in expert consultation for a major ministry event, like a Prom? Looking for an experienced ministry leader with professional experience in interior design for your building or renovation project? Contact Harmony Hensley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Harmony developed many of the free resources available through our Key Ministry website, including the resources used by the team that created the Heart of Rock and Roll Prom.