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Pathways Mix and Mingle is all about inclusion

R. R. Branstrom | Daily Press Delta Hair Company donates their services prior to the Mix and Mingle Formal Community Event on Monday. After getting their hair and makeup done, attendees were able to use the photo booth at Amp’D UP right at the salon before heading to the big event in the evening.

ESCANABA — A formal event for people with disabilities, their families and people looking to meet others and have a good time was held at the Island Resort and Casino on Monday evening. The Mix and Mingle Community Event, arranged by volunteers and staff from Pathways and supported by organizations and individuals in Delta County and beyond, is one of several similarly-aimed social events organized throughout the year, but this formal is akin to a prom, complete with ball gowns and makeovers.

“It started years ago, and it was geared towards people with disabilities,” said coordinator Brenda Crow. “It was started because a group of parents really wanted a safe place where their kids or young adults could gather and be included. Just true blue inclusion.”

She said the first event was about 23 years ago and had maybe 15 to 30 people. Now, hundreds attend.

“These events are open to everyone,” said Crow. “We have a lot of people in the community that have different abilities, and some people just don’t know how to make friends.”

All the gatherings are held in the name of socializing in a welcoming environment. Some outings are more casual; there are also holiday-themed events around Halloween and Christmastime.

The first formal — like the Mix and Mingle — was 21 years ago. Crow said it’s always held the second week of June.

“The ladies get fitted for dresses, formal gowns, in April (and) May. Those are all donated from the community,” she relayed. “If they need alterations, we have a seamstress that does alterations at a very discounted rate.”

Jewelry and shoes are also available to borrow and are cleaned between uses so they can be reused the following year. On the day of the event, local beauticians donate their hair and makeup services.

During the late morning and early afternoon on Monday, Cost Cutters and Delta Hair Company (formerly The Ritz) welcomed ticket holders of the Mix and Mingle.

The DATA bus was available, also included with the admission ticket, for anyone who needed a ride to the venue. Attendees dressed to the nines, stepping off the bus at the Island to be greeted by cheering from volunteers from Embers Credit Union and the Gladstone Key Club was a scene Crow likened to Hollywood.

“I am so thankful for everybody that has helped. We are so blessed as far as the amount of community support we’ve gotten,” Crow said. “We do what we can with whatever we have — we just make do, and our community’s like, ‘What do you need?'”

Ever After Decorating has been decorating the venue annually for over a decade; Crow said that “she goes above and beyond.”

The Reflections Band and a DJ performed at the event. Fawn’s Photography and Amp’d UP provided a combination of fun and formal photos. In addition to helping manage the event, Key Club students and other volunteers also join in the dancing and mingling each year, which Crow said is beautiful to see.

“It really breaks down the social norms, and the younger students see that we all have wonderful things that we’re able to do, and they really establish some friendships. … It’s about making friends and connections.”

She said that they used to select a prom king and queen, “but that was too hard, because everybody’s beautiful. Everybody’s special. No one is better than anybody else. … Everybody is seen as special and important.”

For information on future events and how to get involved, contact Brenda Crow at 906-233-1240.

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