Disabled adults get their chance to go to prom

What does it mean to be part of normal society? Does it include going to your senior prom?

Most of the clients of All Aboard didn’t attend their senior prom. On Saturday, they will get that first prom experience, an experience that serves as a teenage rite of passage for most teenagers.

Though at this prom, there probably won’t be any teenagers.

All Aboard is a nonprofit activities program on Broadway in downtown Everett for developmentally disabled adults. The program is rare in that it tries to keep costs low while offering a variety of activities, such as art and cooking class, reading and karaoke.

On Tuesdays, there’s bowling at Majestic Lanes in Lynnwood.

Clients and staff at All Aboard have been wanting to hold a first prom for years.

Shannon Danks has taught art and music at All Aboard since 2003. She said many of the clients at All Aboard don’t graduate high school until they are 21 or 22 and that attending their prom was “highly, highly discouraged.”

Danks said the 54 clients who have already signed up to attend the All Aboard prom are excited about the prospect of this elaborate event.

“It’s getting to dress up and that’s what so neat about it,” said Danks. “A lot of them don’t quite know (prom) but they know they are getting this fancy dress and are super excited about that.”

Danks credits All Aboard client Ed Barnhart with coming up with the prom idea about six years ago. Barnhart has been a participant of All Aboard since its beginning and has put in a lot of footwork getting donations such as the hall for the prom, which will be Oly’s Dance Studio, and tuxedo rental discounts from Men’s Wearhouse.

The band, Crabb, will be playing music and participants will be served donated appetizers and dessert.

“I didn’t get to my prom,” said Barnhart, 32. “They wouldn’t let me go to the prom and a lot of my friends were telling me, you have to go to the prom, it’s a way of life, a rite of passage. Everybody needs to go to the prom.”

In 2002, Gene Rogoway started All Aboard because his son Mike, who has Down syndrome, needed a social outlet after his public schooling finished.

There was nothing like All Aboard before in Everett. In a 2006 interview with The Herald, Gene Rogoway said what All Aboard was trying to do was to “make sure our guys fit into normal society.”

Today, All Aboard serves about 200 clients a week and the need keeps growing, Danks said. The program is bursting at the seams at their place at 2507 Broadway and Danks said it’s imperative All Aboard get a bigger facility.

“There are so many people who want to come…it’s one of the few social things there is,” said Danks, who now cares for Mike Rogoway since Gene’s death.

Danks, who was awarded the city of Everett Mayor’s “Art Educator of the Year” in 2010, said the All Aboard prom, dubbed “The Sky’s the Limit” is the culminating event of the year, receiving more support in donations of dresses, food, corsages and a dance hall to any other event they’ve ever had.

“The ladies look like princesses…and (executive director) Evelyn Pringle and I feel like fairy godmothers.”

Sam Lu

What are they saying about going to the prom:

Sam Lu is 41 and graduated from Stanwood High School.

Lu is Vietnamese. He grew up in Stanwood with his mom and dad and four sisters.

Sam Lu was the youngest of the family. He didn’t get to go to his first prom.

For the All Aboard prom, Lu is making up for that missed experience: He is taking two girls.

One is his girlfriend. The other is an All Aboard client who asked Lu to take her and he said yes.

When Lu was getting fitted for his tux at Men’s Wearhouse, the topic came up that he was taking two girls.

The man doing Lu’s fitting jokingly asked him if he needed help with one of the girls.

Sam bluntly answered: “No.”

Sam couldn’t articulate answers during the interview; his information came from executive director Evelyn Pringle.

Jduy Jane Ryba

Judy Jane Ryba is 44 and lives in Everett. She’s been a participant at All Aboard for about five years.

“I like the art. Colored pencil. And Shannon is the greatest art teacher in the world,” Ryba said.

This is Ryba’s first prom.

“Yes, I like the prom,” Ryba said, her girlish face beaming. “It’s the first time and it’s special to me. I got a boyfriend and his name is Mike Stephanson. He asked me and he’s real nice.”

Amanda Hernandez

Amanda Hernandez is a serious and slim 23-year-old.

She graduated in 2008 from Coupeville High School and now lives in an adult family home in Lynnwood.

Hernandez said she didn’t make it to her first prom because her boyfriend at the time decided to cheat on her.

She’s going with friends this time.

“So I’m a little bit nervous because this will be my first prom ever,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez said her mom will be helping her shop for a black dress with matching shoes. Hernandez said her short-cropped hair will also be styled.

She said she’s not much of a dancer but “I am going to give it a shot.”

Hernandez enjoys the art program at All Aboard but her real passion is animals. She’s worked at PAWS in Lynnwood for five years.

“I just love animals and they just keep me going,” Hernandez said.

The petite brunette said she’s never really been good around groups of people so her first prom is a big step for her social life.

But one she knows is the right step.

“Before, I used to just be on my computer in my room,” Hernandez said. “Now I’m going out and doing some things and this one will help me open up a little more.

“I’m going to try and have a good time because I don’t want to spend my entire life on my computer.”

Kendra Zaike and Jay Fazekas

All Aboard’s first prom is going to be doubly special for Kendra Zaike and Jay Fazekas, both of Marysville.

The prom is the same day as the couple’s wedding anniversary. They will have been married for five years on Saturday.

Maybe the prom will even be three times more special for the couple. After all, Zaike asked Fazekas to her first prom. Fazekas missed his first prom because he didn’t have the money.

The couple met about 22 years ago. That was before Fazekas was in a wheelchair.

“If I compare this prom to that one, he was walking at the time and there’s a prom picture of both of us that day,” said Zaike. “So this one will be a little different.”

Doctors don’t know what is causing Fazekas’ paralysis. He said “doctors can’t put a pin in it.”

Fazekas, who will be 43 the day of the prom, said he has no feeling below the waist.

Zaike, 38, said she knew that was happening to Fazekas before she married him but she never waivered.

“I just, I loved him for who he was, not anything else,” Zaike said.

How you can help

Donations of appetizers or men’s clothinig or haircuts and pedicures are still being accepted at All Aboard to help this nonprofit hold its first prom, “The Sky’s the Limit.”

To make a donation go to the All Aboard website at www.allaboardwa.org/index.html or drop off items at their facility at 2507 Broadway. For further information call 425-327-5533.

All Aboard’s first ever prom is from 6 to 8 p.m. Sept. 8 at Oly’s Dance Studio, 2931 Bond St., Everett. The cost of the tickets is $10 per person which will include appetizers, drinks and photos. This is limited to the first 150 people who RSVP by calling 425-327-5533 or emailing bookkeeper@frontier.com.

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