Every year, CHCA’s SOS groups find creative ways to serve the community. From packing medical supplies to treating seniors with a night of music, planting gardens in food deserts, and collecting diapers for mothers in need, students use their talents to bring hope and healing to a broken world.
This year, SOS undertook one of its more ambitious projects: organizing a winter formal for young adults with special needs. While the event had been on students’ hearts and minds for some time, this year proved the perfect moment to bring the concept to life.
Students Chandler Huffman and Mae Schrantz helped spearhead the event. “Chandler’s overwhelming passion for making this the most fun night for students with disabilities inspired Winter Formal,” says Schrantz. “She pushed us all to stop talking about making a big event happen and put our words into action.”
“For this year, the SOS Board adopted the theme #myschoolmycity, illustrating their focus on serving right where we live,” adds Rebecca Peltier, Christian Service Outreach Director. “Reaching out to the special needs community in our area was part of living out this theme.”
Planning for Winter Formal required intentionality and compassion to create an unforgettable evening, and that planning paid off. Guests arrived at MSL to a six-room winter wonderland, with areas designated for dancing, playing games, watching a movie, taking official Winter Formal photos, and regulating in the sensory and quiet spaces. Making the event accessible and inclusive ensured everyone found a spot that best suited their needs while maintaining the high-energy ambience of a quintessential high school dance.
The night was a true dream come true for both SOS students and those who attended Winter Formal. “Pure joy and friendship” is how Schrantz describes the night. “Many buddy pairs were close friends by the end of the night. Watching different children thrive in different rooms was a highlight,” she says.
But it was the parents who offered the biggest surprise of the night. “We were primarily concerned with giving the attendees a really special night,” says Malia Mumma, Administrative Assistant at Upper School. “I had not considered what a blessing it was to their caregivers. I was thanked by more than one parent for providing a safe, fun place for their child to go, which in turn gave them a much-deserved respite. Some parents had a date night. Others mentioned being grateful for having the time to get things done. Our impact was so much broader than I imagined.”
“A few parents also mentioned that their children had never had the chance for something like a formal or prom and that this dance was a chance for them to see that milestone come true,” says Peltier. “It meant as much to them as it did to the children.”
Winter Formal’s success is another step toward broadening CHCA’s reach into communities across the city and serves as an example of what can be accomplished when people come together for the good of others. “We hadn’t really dipped our toes into the special needs community,” says Schrantz, “but felt this was a practical way to provide support for the families and teach our own students the joy of helping others. I would love to see this as an annual event for CHCA.”
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Bridging a gap, SOS planned and hosted CHCA’s first-ever Winter Formal for students with disabilities. The evening made an impact on volunteers, attendees, and their families, who were given a night they’ll never forget.
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