Kings and queens donning suits and sparkles were met with applause and photographers as they walked on the red carpet at the Grace Gala at Mount Pleasant UMC in Terre Haute. The two-day affair (April 14 and 15, 2023) was the 7th annual prom-like event the church has put on for students and adults with disabilities.
This year, there were 300+ honored guests with varying degrees of special needs. Some are able to walk, while others are in wheelchairs. Some come with significant health issues. Others are self-sufficient.
“It really is a wide-ranging ground, a glimpse I believe of the kingdom of God,” said Rev. Dennis Ticen, pastor of Mount Pleasant.
Upon arrival, the honored guests receive a crown or tiara and a wrist corsage or boutonnière–depending, of course, on their sensitivity to having items on their heads or wrists.
Guests are then escorted by local military, law enforcement, and first responders to the church gym, which is transformed into a party-like atmosphere, complete with a dance floor and a disco ball.
Two-time Grace Gala attendee Hannah Gadlage described the event as, “A big dance party. It’s the best party ever!”
Throughout the evening, the kings and queens are truly treated like royalty. They can ride on the party bus, enjoy a special dinner, have their photo taken, and dance the night away.
If desired, party-goers can get their hair or makeup touched up or their shoes shined. “There are people in that room who will do everything they can to make them feel beautiful,” said pastor Dennis.
During the event, parents and caregivers are also spoiled. They are invited to spend time in a respite room, where they can enjoy quiet time, converse, or take a nap. There are also massages and therapy dogs available. While parents and caregivers enjoy the opportunity to relax, their primary joy comes from watching their loved ones have the time of their lives.
According to Dennis, “Parents repeatedly come to staff with tears of gratitude in their eyes that their child got to be ‘normal’ for at least three hours.”
An event of this magnitude requires 300+ volunteers. “It takes an army!” described Dennis. This year, volunteers were comprised of church families, local youth ministries, a little league team, and athletes from Indiana State University, to name a few.
Volunteers serve in a variety of ways. Some are monitoring the dance floor, directing the party bus line, running the karaoke rooms, registering guests, cheering on the red carpet, and working in the kitchen, which has to accommodate an array of dietary needs, from gluten or salt free to mechanically softened.
“God made us all in
a special way.”
Many volunteers serve as buddies, which assist their assigned VIP throughout the evening. “It is our hope that a deeper relationship forms and new friendships happen,” said Jess Berryhill, Special Needs Ministry Coordinator at Mount Pleasant.
“One quest got invited to a concert by a buddy. It’s this kind of community that we hope this event sparks.”
The Grace Gala, which is put on by Grace Unlimited -the special needs ministry at Mount Pleasant–was designed to reach out to people with
special needs in the local community and let them know that they are loved and made in the image of God.
As VIPs exit the gala, they receive a bag with some small gifts and handwritten notes to remind them that they are special.
“God made us all in a special way,” said Hannah.
“I think it’s great that people can celebrate that kind of thing. Everybody is important and needs to know that they are loved.”
The Grace Gala, the “best party ever,” does just that.
“It is our hope that a deeper relationship forms and new friendships happen. One quest got invited to a concert by a buddy. It’s this kind of community that we hope this event sparks.”
Jess Berryhill, Special Needs Ministry Coordinator at Mount Pleasant
Photos courtesy of Kristin Blair/Blue Lace Photography.