Local church shares special experience with community

Caroline Cook, 16, of Bowling Green dances with Logan Reece, 18, during Jesus Prom at Hillview Heights church on Friday night. During Jesus Prom, people with special needs are paired with caregivers for the evening and given the opportunity to experience prom.

Anna Anderson

At first glance, Hillvue Heights Church looked like the scene of a typical high school dance on Friday night. Limousines were parked out front, balloons and banners decorated the entrances, and there was a buzz of excitement in the air.

But, “Jesus Prom” was much more than a dance. It was a way for members of the church, alongside people in the community to serve others — particularly individuals with special needs.

“We were looking for ways we could do more in the community,” said Chase Goff, a pastor at Hillvue Heights and a special needs teacher at Warren Central High School. Goff was in charge of overseeing the event.

Goff said he had a friend in Lexington who told him about an event that a church there held to offer people with special needs their very own prom, and he was inspired to bring an event like this to southern Kentucky.

From this idea three years ago, “Jesus Prom” began.

Goff said since the first year, the event has mostly been the same. People from the community with special needs are invited to Hillvue Heights for a night of dancing and celebration.

On Friday, volunteers set up booths for make-up, hair styling, face painting, food and typical prom photos. Some volunteers even signed up to be escorts for the evening, hanging out and dancing with their mentally or physically challenged guest.

A DJ played up-beat, top-40 hits and dance songs like, “The Cupid Shuffle” and “The Cha Cha Slide.”

One of the volunteers taking his partner for a spin on the dance floor was 22-year-old WKU student Nolan Crooks from Nashville. Crooks said this was the first year he volunteered at “Jesus Prom.”

“I thought it’d be a good opportunity to meet people and hang out,” he said.

His date, 32-year-old Laura Merritt from Franklin, Tenn., said this was also her first year attending the event.

“I like dances,” she said.

Merritt also said she was having fun and wants to go back next year.

Goff said “Jesus Prom” has grown since the first year in 2011. This year, Goff estimates that about 200 people attended and anywhere from 300 to 400 people volunteered.

“It seems like a lot more volunteers than last year,” said 16-year-old Barren County High School student Cassie Harbison.

Harbison said this was her second year volunteering at “Jesus Prom.”

He said that most volunteers come from Hillvue Heights’ membership base, but people from the Best Buddies program, the Kelly Autism Program, WKU Baptist Campus Ministry and Warren County Public Schools also lend a hand.

This year, volunteers handed out plastic jewelry, tee-shirts and Chick-fil-A catered. All of the money for the event came from the tithes and offerings of Hillvue Heights Church.

Goff said the theme for this year’s “Jesus Prom” was “Shine.”

“We want to lift up the name of Jesus and shine light on that,” he said.

Despite all of the careful orchestrating that goes into putting on an event like this, Goff said next year’s theme of “Starry Nights” has already been decided.