by Haley Burnside & Lauren Schuster, Senior Writer & Social Media Editor
Thanks to the dedication of two sisters, Manhattan College hosted a prom for people with special needs on April 5. Kelly and Mary Kret, the Extra Special Prom’s organizers, have spent most of the semester preparing for the event. They recruited students to volunteer as “buddies” of the attendees or as “paparazzi” by the entrance of Smith Auditorium.
The two sisters have spent the entire semester working to bring this event to campus. They each divided up responsibilities in planning. Kelly credits their team dynamic for ultimately bringing the Extra Special Prom into reality.
“It’s been pretty cool to work on this event together, especially to have someone who believes in something just as much as you do. We definitely have a good balance, Mary was the one who really thought of bringing it to Manhattan and I’ve been handling more of the logistics,” said Kelly.
The event was originally scheduled to be held in late February, but the date had to be pushed back due to various coordination and partnership issues within the College.
“We did have a lot of difficulty getting this event off the ground! It took a while to find a department who believed in its worth. I wasn’t surprised, I mean I was disappointed, but good things always face resistance. I don’t want to focus on the negative, but it definitely wasn’t easy, so we were so thankful when Father Tom agreed to let us run it under his supervision,” said Kelly.
For the sisters, the event had personal significance. In addition to a family connection to people with disabilities, Mary finds connection through her future career path.
“I have always been drawn to working with people with special needs. I’m studying to be an Occupational Therapist and I hope to work with young children with disabilities,” said Mary. “Also, Kelly and I have a cousin, a year younger than me with Down Syndrome. We are extremely close, we actually live on the same block! She’ll be attending our dance with a few of her friends!”
The idea of a prom for people with disabilities came about when Mary realized the potential for connection between the attendees and students at Manhattan College.
“I think the main thing Kelly and I wanted to do was to close the gap between us and those with special needs. In a setting like a school dance, it gives the opportunity for us all to hang out and realize that we are more alike than different. Our event is especially unique because all the volunteers are college students and close in age to our guests! We have had the most positive response from the students here at MC, it’s been amazing,” said Mary.
One of the MC students in attendance was sophomore education major Camryn Kidney.
“I feel like it was a great way to be inclusive and to give people the opportunity to have an accommodating experience that they might not have otherwise,” Kidney said.
To make this inclusive experience a reality, the Krets have had to put in their all.
“It’s been a lot of work, but obviously the end result will be worth it. The response from the student body has been awesome and so encouraging. The fact that this event is running is thanks to the student body – they’ve been so positive and we’ll have well over 100 Manhattan students involved the night of,” said Kelly.
Kidney was excited to be involved in the evening’s festivities as well as the statement that the event would make.
“I am really passionate about how important it is to treat people with special needs as equals and as peers, and not people that you need to look down to,” Kidney said. “I feel like a lot of people don’t understand that.”
Like any prom attendees, participants danced the night away to their favorite songs, bonded with their buddies, munched on snacks and posed for photos together.
“When you have an event like this, not only does it raise awareness to able bodied people on campus that people with special needs exist and they are important and it’s important to accommodate for them, but it’s also just important to have events where people with special needs can have a good time,” Kidney said. “I know part of Kelly and Mary’s mission was to have a place where people who come with special needs don’t feel like they are being watched by parents or by teachers or people who feel like they’re above them. Overall, we’re peers and we all come to have a good time.”