ESCANABA - While her family always provided an environment of love, comfort and acceptance for Laurie Spaulding while growing up, the world outside the walls of her home were not always as welcoming.
But after viewing the social side of life for years from the outside looking in, Laurie has found an outlet that provides her immense joy and pleasure - the annual Pathways Prom. She attended the prom, held at the Island Resort and Casino on June 6, for the third straight year.
Laurie suffers from a genetic disease called neurofibromatosis, which covers most of her body, including her face and skull, with varying-sized tumors. While attending the prom for the first time in 2010, with her newly-coifed hairdo and dressed in a brand new formal, Laurie told Brenda Crow, Mix and Mingle and Community Events coordinator for Pathways, "I feel beautiful!"
Dorothy McKnight | Daily Press
Laurie Spaulding watches intently as Stacy DuBose, curls her hair in preparation for the Pathways Prom that took place on June 6. DuBose is a stylist with the Renaissance Academy of Beauty. Although many prom-goers are physically or developmentally disadvantaged, the annual dinner/dance has become a totally community-minded event.
Laurie first learned about the Pathways Prom from a friend whose daughter planned to attend and decided to check it out.
"I wasn't sure I could actually go because I'm not a client of Pathways," Laurie said. "But I found out that anyone in the community can go."
"It's really wonderful," she smiled while getting her hair styled at Renaissance Academy of Beauty in Escanaba the afternoon of the Prom. "It's wonderful seeing all the other girls in such pretty dresses and being able to go myself. I never went to my high school prom. When I'm there, I feel young and pretty. I'm really looking forward to it."
While many of the individuals who attend the annual prom are persons with developmental and physical disabilities, Crow said the event is intended to be limited to clients of Pathways but a total community event.
"Our focus is on integration, not segregation," said Crow. "When you put labels on people, then you put limits on the event."
Crow said approximately 600 individuals attended the 12th annual prom.
"It was a bunch of people having a good time," said Crow. "They came from all over. Some were friends and family of Pathways clients, but others were just people who heard about the dance and wanted to be a part of it."
According to Crow, the "accepting" spirit of the prom-goers toward each other is heartwarming.
"Whether they have a disability or whether they don't, they are totally accepting of each other," she said. "There's never a problem. Everyone's out to have a good time and they do."
Crow said many merchants in the community have embraced the spirit of the annual dance. Beautiful Beginnings in Escanaba made 150 prom dresses available for purchase at $5 each. Young's Formal Wear provided tuxedos at greatly discounted prices. Nu-Way cleaners provided dry-cleaning services for all the dresses and gowns. Fawn Clement of Fawn Photograph provides photographs of all the attendees.
"I've noticed that lots of the pictures of people that were taken at the prom are used in their obituaries when they die," said Crow. "It shows how special people feel about themselves when they're all dressed up and happy."
Crow said she is amazed at the organizations that are willing to provide decorations for the venue to make it a special occasion.
"There's no way we could afford $6,000 for decorations," Crow said. "We're very blessed to live in the community we live in."
When it comes to the positive feelings that are the result of attending the Pathways Prom, Laurie can easily speak for the majority of prom-goers.
"There are so many of us who never got a chance to go to their high school prom - or any dance for that matter," she said. "This prom gives us a chance to dress up and feel special."