Variety Club hosts annual prom in Worcester

At Variety Club’s prom on Wednesday evening are, from left, Heather Shokley, Eric Salomon, Emily Spottiswood and Sasha Higgins.
At Variety Club’s prom on Wednesday evening are, from left, Heather Shokley, Eric Salomon, Emily Spottiswood and Sasha Higgins. Gary Puleo — digital first media
Variety Club counselor Amanda Walters, left, who helped chaperone Wednesday’s prom at the Worcester facility poses with Sasha Higgins.
Variety Club counselor Amanda Walters, left, who helped chaperone Wednesday’s prom at the Worcester facility poses with Sasha Higgins. Gary Puleo — Digital First Media

WORCESTER>>The day had started with professional makeovers and now here they were looking resplendent in their carefully applied makeup and sparkly dresses just minutes into their big night.

Radiant in red, Emily Spottiswood was not only reveling in prom night on Wednesday at Variety Club Camp and Development Center in Worcester, she was celebrating her 19th birthday.

Her date, Eric Salomon, a star of the camp’s vocational program, proudly acknowledged that he had made the zucchini bread the crowd would later dine on.

“I bake things,” said Eric, a senior at Wissahickon High School, as his mom, Ann Salomon, a parent and advisory board member, smiled.

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“It’s their time to shine, their time to be themselves and have fun,” Salomon said. “Emily is one of the best campers and friends anyone could have,” she said of her son’s date.

“Eric’s been in so many programs here for the last 10 years. He feels comfortable here, he knows the lay of the land and he knows every adult here.”

In its 81 years of instilling confidence in kids with specials needs through a variety of year-round educational and recreational programs and camps, Variety Club has benefitted kids with autism, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy and other developmental and physical disabilities.

“A lot of our kids don’t get to go to their high school proms for various reasons, so we like to recreate the experience here,” noted Heather Johnson, director of programming. “This gives them a chance to dress up for dinner and dance. We crown a prom king and queen, they ride around in a limo and it’s a typically functional activity for our kids.”

Most of the prom attendees were from the overnight camp, explained Mary Fuller, special events director. “So they’re here without parents, but some parents do come in to see their kids at prom and we invited some campers from our other programs as well,” she said.

As they have for the last 20 years, Acme Markets had donated the food, the decorations — the theme was “Under the Sea” — and volunteers to deliver and serve the food and help with the chaperoning duties.

“Our volunteers are from all over the company,” said Sue Lawler, Acme category manager. “I put out a request and I’m always overwhelmed by how many people volunteer every year. We even have people here from New Jersey and Delaware. It’s a labor of love for a lot of us.”

Before dancing the evening away to the tunes of DJ Evans Entertainment, which had donated its services, the crowd sat down to dinner of chicken tenders and fries.

Earlier that day, Variety counselor Amanda Walters had accompanied many of the girls to Wave Reviews salon in Lansdale for free makeup and hair stylings and a “full salon experience,” Fuller explained.

“Did you get to choose your colors and how you wanted your hair done?” Walters asked 15-year-old Sasha Higgins, who donned a lovely blue dress made by her mom.

“I told them to surprise me,” Sasha said, smiling.

Camp director Angela Hall said prom night gives the Variety kids a chance to be kids.

“Our kids love being here and we’re doing a lot to move in a positive direction, with giving them more choices and different options,” she said. “They don’t get the opportunity to be kids and this lets them decide what they do. This is their opportunity to hang out with their friends and have a good time, have fun and be themselves.”