Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

November 4, 2012

Jesus Prom supporters are angels

Tammie Hetzer-Womack
For the Independent

ASHLAND — I’m drowning in the midst of political ads and pundits, wondering where my country’s turning tomorrow.

Gosh, wouldn’t a diversion be so sweet this morning?

You don’t wanna hear it either. And I don’t wanna be that guy. So, instead, I’ll tell a good story, and, despite how things turn out tomorrow, there’s still a happy ending in sight.

Here’s to hope.

Last Friday I had the privilege of attending Jesus Prom at Bridges Christian Church in Russell. Over its three years I’ve written about it always, but never witnessed the spiritual joy on these angel faces. It’s a free dance and dinner to unite people with developmental, medical, behavioral, learning, and mental health disabilities.

I was touched, heart and soul. There were lots of laughs, too.

When I pulled into the parking lot a host of volunteers were lined outside the sanctuary, waiting for the prom-goers to arrive in their handicapped-accessible hay wagon.

It’s awe-inspiring, seeing the jamboree of teens and adults who were waiting out in the cold, giving up Friday Night Lights, hoping to help. Word spread in our community and few said no.

Russell High School senior Olivia Adkins was in the doorway shooting pictures, a shining guardian angel capturing a precious moment in time.

With camera shutters flashing and grins beaming, guests were ushered inside, arm-in-arm with a handsome prom king or queen. Some arrived in wheelchairs or helmets; while others were already tapping spurs as band beats boomed from the sanctuary.

First stop for the girly girls: a hot date with a curling iron, last-minute makeup touch-up, and a dusting of glitter - because you can’t have too much glitter.

Sandra Hurley, 61, waited in the salon chair, sporting a purple plaid get-up. She’s country proud.

“I love Billy Ray!” yee-hawed the Ashland woman, a kid at heart, this unforgettable, huge grin brightening her face, perhaps crushin’ on our hometown boy through broken speech cadence. “I’m gonna dance to Achy Breaky Heart!”

Right beside this makeshift beauty shop, Angie Griffith of Greenup’s KMK Photography prepared a photo shoot for such supermodels.

It’s typically a busy time for her, with Christmas photo cards to design, but Griffith’s compassion for her faith delivers her to Jesus Prom annually.

“I enjoy what I do and see many smiling faces coming into my studio every year, but the smiles I receive coming through my lens at the Bridges Jesus Prom are priceless.”

Absolutely. This is where I meet 56-year-old Nancy Bittle, a clad in purple, bejeweled jeans and sparkly cowpoke boots. She rides in a wheelchair, but is ready to gallop into this one-horse town.

Dwight Jackson is one of Bittle’s caregivers at Pathways group home – and is honored by his job. He pays tribute.

“She’s such a gentle, sweet spirit.”

Speaking of lively and high-spirited, I walk across the church foyer to meet the singular star of my night and new BFF, Leah Meek. The 22-year-old Ashland woman is pretty much everything I dream of being.

Somebody tells Meek she looks pretty tonight.

“Oh, I know,” she said with attitude, a spin, and a bit of style. With doggy-ears all tied-up in satin ribbons and country-western flare in her skirt, she bounds to tell me all about her boyfriend, the “very hot,” rap-mogul Usher.

Now, I must say, she finally owns up his name is actually Eric, but identities must be changed for this publication. Paparazzi is all-around and hounding her.

“He’s smokin’ hot, drop-dead sexy. He makes me melt,” adds Leah, with a couple air-snaps and a “you go girl.” She runs into the dance-hall, turns to me, calls me “doll-face,” and shakes her booty, um, bootie, adding “this place about to blow!”

Well, yes.

Tracy Tooley and the band from Huntington’s ReGeneration Church play the popular tunes for the cool kids. A little “We Are Family” is coupled with a smidgen of “Boot, Scootin’ Boogie.” Bellefonte cotillion instructor Barbarann Wheeler is teaching the famous line dance with red sequin bows tied in her pigtails, and crimson boots to match. A dancing circle struts the toe-heel slide.

Greenup Circuit Judge Bob Conley turned in his honorable robe for a weathered jean jacket and cowboy hat. He’s skipping with his gorgeous Jesus Prom date. When disco tunes pipe up he’s in his best groove, moves to make John Travolta envious.

Conley shares God’s grace tonight.

As is Shelby Thompson, a proud Fairview High School graduate, bouncing his head to the beat, till his hat pops off.

This themed shindig strengthens in ministry and continues to grow. This year more than 100 guests, caregivers and parents enjoyed Jesus Prom.

“The prom is a great opportunity for all of our community churches to come together and share God’s love to a group of people who don’t always experience His love. It doesn’t matter what church you attend, or your denomination – it’s about loving people the way God made them, and God doesn’t make mistakes,” said coordinator Gary Sizemore, founder of downtown Greenup’s Emmaus Respite and Resource Center, a day center for those with disabilities.

“Every year, one of the parts I enjoy most is finding our volunteers who are hesitant about volunteering for this event. When I catch up with them during the prom, the fear is gone and they’re just having fun.”

Sizemore already has next year’s Jesus Prom on the calendar – it’s November 8, 2013 - so mark yours, too.

My heart grew a couple sizes last week. Look at the online pictures. You’ll see why…

Visit Bridge’s website at www.bridgeschristianchurch.org. Or, you can also keep up-to-date with Jesus Prom on Facebook at facebook.com/bridges.prom.