All Inclusive Prom 2019
by Simirthaa Karunakaran - Article in the India Currents Magazine
Flowers adorned the Foothill Presbyterian Church’s Fellowship Hall as the sun began to set. Girls and boys of all ages and abilities were dressed in their finest, the sound of their laughter uniting everyone. Graced with flower crowns and boutineers, these kids were ready to partake in a trademark high school tradition: InFUSE’s first annual all-inclusive prom!
InFUSE, a nonprofit organization, is the brainchild of a group of friends, namely Mrs. Selvi Pragasam, Mrs. Lavanya Gopal, and their respective families, who want to create a more inclusive environment for neurodiverse children and young adults. Since April 2017, InFUSE has been providing personalized educational pathways and activities for the neurodiverse community via an afterschool program in order to uncover each student’s unique strengths and abilities. InFUSE also offers bhajan classes and a peer interaction dance program. Founders Mrs. Selvi and Mrs. Lavanya are also passionate about empowering the next generation with the tools they need to make an impact on their community.
As a volunteer at InFUSE, I am supposed to be teaching the students, but on many days, I feel like I am the one getting taught by all of the inspiring students. As humans, we are so quick to claim that we are stressed or something is too hard and that our efforts are futile, but spending just a few minutes with our friends at InFUSE is enough to show us what true persistence is and how to live life to its fullest. InFUSE truly has its doors open for everybody, embodying the saying – stronger together.
As a junior in high school, I had attended prom with my friends a couple of months prior to the all-inclusive prom (held on May 18th 2019). It was there that I realized that although prom is considered a rite-of-passage for high schoolers, there are many who cannot experience this event. For many neurodiverse students, loud music, lights, and a crowded atmosphere can make prom an anxiety-inducing experience When talking to the parents of InFUSE students, many voiced similar concerns regarding their high school’s prom. In order to provide a solution to this problem in our community, along with Mrs. Selvi, Mrs. Lavanya, and volunteer Nithika Karthikeyan, I led efforts to coordinate an all-inclusive prom catering to both the neurotypical and neurodiversity communities in the Bay Area.
Held at Foothill Presbyterian Church’s Fellowship Hall, the prom had a theme of an enchanted forest while all kids came dressed as their favorite princes and princesses. There was a photobooth, talent show, and a parade for the attendees to show off their outfits. Parents pitched in to provide a scrumptious, multicultural potluck while a local band, Gifted Connections played the night away. Paintings by the students of InFUSE were showcased in an art display as well. The goal of this event was to recreate the trademark high school tradition of prom in a way where kids of all ages and abilities could participate and have fun.
Mrs. Haritha, a mother of one of the kids who attended InFUSE’s prom, stated, “Thanks so much Selvi, Lavanya, and the other volunteers for a fantastic event. Namit did not even know what a prom is. He got to experience it yesterday. Thank you so much for filling so many kids’ hearts with happiness.”
Vaibhav Gopal, Mrs. Lavanya Gopal’s son and a highschool senior from the neurodiverse community, said, “The InFuse prom was a great and lovely event. People of all ages could come and enjoy the entertainment and delicious food. It made me feel that I belonged to the group and I enjoyed the enchanted evening.”