From the moment she walked along the yellow brick road, it was a magical night for Debbie.
In her prom dress and floral-scented corsage, Debbie met her date, Chris Dunton, at the Philadelphia Ballroom, 2014 Hornig Road. Dorothy, the Cowardly Lion and other Wizard of Oz characters greeted them and other prom-goers as they entered the building for a night of fun.
Debbie and Dunton are too old to be high school students. But that’s exactly why Merakey hosts a prom for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities each year – to give those who normally wouldn’t get to go to a prom the opportunity to experience it for themselves.
More than 400 individuals with IDD and their caretakers from Philadelphia and surrounding areas attended Merakey’s Somewhere Over the Rainbow prom. A nonprofit dedicated to providing education and development and behavioral health to individuals across the country, this is the 17th year Merakey has hosted an IDD prom.
“My favorite part is when folks are arriving and getting out of the limo and seeing their faces,” Dunton said, saying the arrivals reminded him of the Oscars.
Dunton is the owner of Linton’s Managed Services, a food service management company. That’s how he met Debbie, who has worked at the company helping package food and wash pots for 17 years. Debbie is a big reason why he became a Merakey board member so he could support people like her.
“Debbie stole my heart. The hugs she gives you the first time she meets you are so sincere. She’s a wonderful person,” Dunton said.
Dunton and Debbie have been attending the prom for the past eight years, so it seemed like a natural fit to go together this year. Debbie expressed her excitement about the prom and the dressed-up Oz characters by having people smell her corsage and drinking coffee.
The night featured dinner, music, dancing and an Oz-themed photo booth. Attendees got their photos taken with the characters as they arrived on the yellow brick road, which doubled as a red carpet. A lot of the food was pureed to accommodate those who needed it.
“For many of our individuals, this is the only formal event they’ll ever get to go to,” said Trish Pisauro, vice president of marketing and communications for Merakey. “It’s their favorite night of the year.”
A DJ played popular modern hits while people flooded the dance floor. The individuals got to dance with each other, their caretakers and Merakey staff, which Pisauro said was her favorite part seeing them interact.
This prom was also the first time where high school students from schools such as Villa Maria Academy High School volunteered at the prom.
Money that comes in through the Merakey Foundation is used to host events such as this. Prom-goers pay for their own outfits and methods of transportation if they choose to arrive in a limo or bus.
Merakey hosts similar proms in Montgomery County. Starting next year, they will host two a year in Pittsburgh.