More than 125 clients came together on Friday, May 2, 2014 for Special Tree's Spring Fling dinner dance at Roma's of Garden City. Now in it's 14th year, the annual event draws Special Tree clients, staff, friends and alumni from all over Southeast and Mid-Michigan for a festive night filled with food, music, dancing, socializing and more. The many hours of planning and coordination by staff paid off once again with a fantastic event that seems to top itself year after year.
This spring's theme Prom: A Night to Remember, inspired by a residential client who had missed her own high school prom, added a fun new twist to the evening. When staff heard about Marlene G.'s desire to attend prom, having missed hers after experiencing a traumatic brain injury several years ago at sixteen, they began brainstorming ways they could give her a second chance at the quintessential teen rite of passage. They presented the idea to the Spring Fling committee, and the "Prom 2014" theme was born.
In addition to the usual banquet dinner, live band, and fabulous dance party, clients decked out in tuxes, ball gowns, top hats, and other finery. When Marlene was crowned Special Tree Prom Queen, there was no bigger smile in the room than hers.
“Everyone said it was the best Spring Fling we’ve ever had,” reflected RiverView Program Manager and Spring Fling Chair Debbie Justice. “We’ve done some wonderful themes in the past, but nothing nearly as big as this. The whole prom thing got everyone geeked. I was really happy with how it turned out.” Even the party preparations took on a new life, with most of the clothing and jewelry collected through a series of donations, and clients meeting up for 'Diva Night' and tuxedo shop outings to get ready.
Clients arrived at Roma's in cars, vans and even a wheelchair accessible limousine. Looking their sharpest in suits, dresses, gowns and tuxedos, they entered the hall to find a flurry of decorations, and a corsage or boutineer for every attendee—made by clients in the InPro vocational program.
There were even party favors, and a sparkly balloon backdrop to pose for the traditional Prom Photo. After a delicious sit down dinner, live band Remedy took off with popular covers and clients flocked to the dance floor. Later in the evening, a conga line formed to the tune “Soul Train.”
“That [conga line] will be done at every event now. I really think that’s going to be a new tradition with how much the clients took to it,” said Justice. “It’s funny, but we have this new staffer who at some point in the night ran up to me and gave me this huge hug. She said ‘I can’t believe I get paid to do this!’ It was just such a great night. It turned out really great.
“That [conga line] will be done at every event now. I really think that’s going to be a new tradition with how much the clients took to it,” said Justice. “It’s funny, but we have this new staffer who at some point in the night ran up to me and gave me this huge hug. She said ‘I can’t believe I get paid to do this!’ It was just such a great night. It turned out really great.”
Pulling off an event of this magnitude requires tremendous coordination by many people, organizing everything from transportation, scheduling, dietary needs, client supports, decorations, and more. But the effort is so worthwhile. Infusing the recovery process every so often with events like Spring Fling provide an important break from the rehabilitation routine, and greatly enhance clients' quality of life.
"It's one of my favorite events all year," shared CEO Joe Richert. "Seeing everyone coming together and enjoying themselves, you really see the value in doing something like this. Until you've witnessed what happens on that dance floor, you just can't imagine what a tremendous morale boost this is—for clients and staff alike."
Justice specifically acknowledged the incredible work of the Spring Fling committee, many of whom were new to the team this year. “It takes a lot of people to put the Spring Fling together," she said. "But it was so fun and totally worth it.”