A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Kentucky by Heart: Jesus Prom focuses on providing special needs individuals a special time

By Steve Flairty
Special to NKyTribune

At the Jesus Prom event at Southland Christian Church in Lexington recently, “A Night at the Museum” certainly did take place–and what a night it was!

 Jesus Prom dance

Jesus Prom dance

The 15th Jesus Prom gathering was a special event focusing on creating an uber good time for special needs individuals. By most accounts, it was another smashing success, a tribute to what is best in human nature — the capacity to serve one another.

The numbers were impressive, as usual. “We had 2300 volunteers and 1300 Prom-ers,” said Prom founder Brewster McLeod, “and we expanded some things this year.” That would include services offered those in the “respite room,” a place at the event to allow full-time caregivers of those with special needs to be served with hand massages, cologne and perfume, and gifts. More of the church facilities were used, cutting down on some of the crowding. The voluntary security staff, along with improved medical support, was increased. Additionally, paying for the meal for Prom-er escorts was added to the program when a private financial gift was given for that purpose.

The model inspired by this program has spread to other churches around the area and out of state with Brewster providing training, including the Flatirons Community Church in Boulder, Colorado.

“I believe they have more attending than we do now,” he said.

Southeast Christian, Louisville, Capital City Christian, Frankfort, and Calvary Christian in Winchester are some of the Kentucky churches that are now doing similar galas for those with special needs.

Brewster McLeod and Gabby Flora

Brewster McLeod and Gabby Flora

This year’s Jesus Prom was, for Brewster, especially meaningful because Beth Crawford came. “Beth was the very first special needs person I met at church 38 years ago,” he said. “She came to junior church with braces on her legs, and we made her part of our retreats, our canoeing, and spelunking. I never even thought about turning her away from doing those things.”

Retired Brookside Elementary School teacher Kim Leet, Nicholasville, served as a Jesus Prom volunteer for the fifth time. She brought two friends, Stephanie Carson, counselor, and JonAnn Horn, principal, of Brookside. “The young man I was honored to host was the most positive, inspiring, and joyous person I have ever had the privilege to meet,” Kim said. “I could not stop smiling at his excitement in each moment of the night.”

For Doug Alexander, the Jesus Prom is always a welcome date on the calendar for his family. His wife, Phyllis, and he like what it means for their autistic son, 35-year-old Morgan, along with the reassurance they gain from the support shown. “As a parent, the Jesus Prom is a manifestation of the appreciation we have that other people are there to help,” Doug said.

I asked Morgan, who has attended the event 13 times, to give me one word to describe it.

“Fun,” he said. Then, he added: “They do a great job with the Jesus Prom.”

Steve Flairty grew up feeling good about Kentucky. He recalls childhood day trips (and sometimes overnight ones) orchestrated by his father, with the take-off points being in Campbell County. The people and places he encountered then help define his passion about the state now. After teaching 28 years, Steve spends much of his time today writing and reading about the state, and still enjoys doing those one dayers (and sometimes overnighters). “Kentucky by Heart” shares part and parcel of his joy. A little history, much contemporary life, intriguing places, personal experiences, special people, book reviews, quotes, and even a little humor will, hopefully, help readers connect with their own “inner Kentucky.”

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