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SOAR students cut loose at first-ever prom

By Samuel Motley
intern@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — Rolling out the red carpet, Rowan-Cabarrus Community College celebrated prom for students with intellectual disabilities and traumatic brain disorders on Friday evening.

SOAR students began showing up at 5:30 p.m., walking along the carpet and dressed in typical prom regalia. They were treated to a banquet dinner and afterward celebrated again — dancing and mingling with friends and family.

SOAR, an acronym for skill, opportunity, awareness and readiness, is a program aimed at helping transition students with intellectual disabilities and traumatic brain disorders to independent lives after graduation.

Friday night’s first-ever prom was a special evening for these students, said Bridget Henderson, lead instructor and director of SOAR at the college’s north campus. It was an opportunity for students to work on their soft skills and socialize in a way they normally wouldn’t have the chance to, Henderson said.

Henderson was the organizer for the prom.

Echoing that sentiment, instructor Gina Pinyan noted that it was not only the first prom for SOAR but also the first prom for many of its students.

The students’ reactions were captured in the word “excitement.”

“Prom is something to look forward to,” said Sydney Lewis, a SOAR student for five years.

She was excited to dance and eat chocolate, she said, as she stood with her boyfriend, Pierce Ogden, in the dance hall.

Students had been talking about the prom for months, said instructor Rhonda Jones.

The program started with six students in 2011, said Jay Taylor, executive director of adult basic education at RCCC, who has spearheaded the program since its launch. There are now nearly 100 students in total, he said.

Speaking to the success of the program, Nancy Warden said SOAR had helped her son, Bryce, open up socially. The program is helping him take the steps needed to live independently, she said.

Even when the school is closed for just two weeks, Bryce looks forward to going back, Warden said. And the program has helped prepared him with the necessary skills for life, she said.

SOAR’s prom was also an opportunity for caregivers to connect and mingle, Henderson said. It allowed them to find common strategies to work with those they care for, she said.

The prom was a “reflection of the kind of people we have working at the community college,” said Taylor, as he tipped his hat to the outpouring of support.

The program’s only limitation is space, said donors Lynn and John Denker.

The college’s human resources department helped by donating dresses for the students, Henderson said. Its School of Cosmetology offered free hair-stylings as well, Pinyan added.

Henderson thought about what the evening meant to her students.

“I want them looking up,” she said. “I want them looking proud.”

Contact newsroom intern Samuel Motley at 704-797-4264.

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