The door will open, and the hypnotic pulse of Madonna or Culture Club will envelop the prospective guest, a pre-adolescent who might just see familiar chaperones sporting parachute pants, or big hair. The dance floor will be populated with kids rocking out to 80’s tunes, and when they need a break from the relentless demands of the “Material Girl”, the plentiful refreshments in the gym will serve to quench their thirst.
Just to be clear, I’m not writing a retrospective of my own pre-teen days. No, this is simply an invitation to participate in a wonderful event. It won’t make the news. It won’t be picked up by Entertainment Tonight. After all, it’s just a dance (albeit one covering the music of the BEST DECADE EVER).
As I said, it’s just a dance. But it’s events like these that can change peoples’ perspectives on the world of disability, and make an indelible difference in our children’s lives forever.
The mixer, which will be hosted by Brick SEPTA (Special Education PTA), in conjunction with the LRMS NJHS (Lake Riviera Middle School National Junior Honor Society), is also being supported by the Brick Township Challenger Program, a local organization well-known as champions of children with disabilities.
The idea was conceived by Mary Tara Wurmser (Brick SEPTA president) in conjunction with the SEPTA executive board, who when searching for a venue quickly found a willing ear in Kyle Oliveira, President of the Lake Riviera National Junior Honor Society.
As many of Brick SEPTA’S activities seem to focus on the younger crowd, the organization was hoping to facilitate an event that included older children, their siblings, and their neurotypical peers. They approached Kyle with the concept, and as he was searching for a new service project for the NJHS, the idea gave him a forum with which to fulfill the NJHS’s needs.
When asked if he had a difficult time soliciting assistance for the evening, Kyle responded, “all of our student members are dedicated and kind-hearted. We have fun doing things that help others so it’s our pleasure, no one has to think twice before signing up”.
To the mother of two children who themselves have special needs, that attitude is 80’s music to my ears.
When pressed further as to why this event meant so much to him, Kyle shared with me that he believes this dance will have important ramifications in several ways. He hopes the opportunity “will help students with special needs by broadening their horizon with the outside world, giving them a sense of accomplishment and acceptance”.
When asked how he felt the evening might change the perspective of his own neurotypical classmates, he responded that the event might “help us be more comfortable to socialize with kids that may be different from us, and (help us) not view them that way”.
And that’s the crux of everything right there. Being different from someone else, in the end, is irrelevant. When a sentiment like that comes out of the mouth of a teen-ager, it gives me a great deal of hope.
Of course no event that involves a budding teen-ager would be complete without some great music. That’s where “Grease Lightning”, the DJ group whose members include Matt Reinhold, Ryan Stamberger, Nick Wickberg, and Jonathan Stamberger, come into the picture. Matt Reinhold, a founding member of the group since 2005, shared strong feelings about the mission of Grease Lightning, and what it means to him.
On a personal level, as an individual with special needs himself, being able to perform for an audience “makes us feel good about ourselves, (and) sort of special”. In regards to children with disabilities, he shared with me that perhaps because of this night, “maybe the kids at Lake Riviera will become friends with the special ed kids, and help them when they are in high school.”
And to that I say a resounding “yes!”.
I am sure this evening will not simply be an excuse for middle-aged parents to search eBay for those elusive parachute pants, or for the female chaperones to raid the depths of their closets for leg warmers and shoulder pads. I am confident that in the end, a “mixer” between neurotypical peers and those with special needs will just be one more opportunity for tomorrow’s adults to see that the common bonds we share transcend our differences.
We all need a chance to have fun. We all need the opportunity for friendship to grace our lives. We all need respect.
And to the National Junior Honor Society at Lake Riviera Middle School, I extend my gratitude for this event that is not just a dance, and for helping change perspectives, one child at a time.
The event is open to teens and “tweens” with special needs and their siblings, ages ten and older. It will be held on Saturday, March 3rd at the Brick Civic Plaza Rec Gym (provided by Brick Township Challenger Program), from 7:00 to 9:00 PM, and is open to Brick residents only. Admission is $3, and will cover the costs of the refreshments, door prizes, and the DJ.