Smiles filled the room at Mill Race Center as senior citizens got a chance to walk down memory lane during a special prom organized just for them.
A regular day for participants of Just Friends Adult Day Services might include activities such as coffee and cards, morning stretches, fabric weaving, and billiards or table games, ending with an episode of the long-running TV western, “Gunsmoke,” executive director Marilyn Clerc said.
But last Friday was different. Their outfits and the backdrops were a quick hint at that.
Richard Oliver showed up for the March 16 adult prom in a dark suit jacket, blue tie and a black Western hat. There was no mistaking Oliver, who attends Just Friends once a week, for Marshal Matt Dillon. Dressed much spiffier that the TV lawman, Oliver looked like he was “cutting a rug.” At 86, he is old enough to remember such dance-hall slang.
[sc:text-divider text-divider-title=”Story continues below gallery” ]
Oliver didn’t go to prom as a teen. As an octogenarian, he attended this prom “to be with people and have a good time,” the Columbus resident said.
Joining him for the fun were his daughter, Vicky Henderson, and his granddaughter, Larah Henderson, a junior at Columbus Signature Academy — New Tech High School.
Marie Morin, who did attend prom growing up in Massachusetts, sported a lavender jacket and darker dress slacks for the adult prom.
With Elvis Presley, the Beatles and sock-hop tunes coming through the sound system, Morin took a spin across the dance floor with Mike Richardson, who provided the DJ equipment.
“I love everything,” said Morin, another Just Friends regular.
At 96, she was almost eight decades removed from her own prom.
Pinwheel sandwiches, chips, cookies, cupcakes and other items were available to sweeten the experience.
Meet the organizers
Oliver, Morin and nearly 30 more Just Friends clients have three Columbus North High School seniors to thank for putting on the event.
Emilee Biddinger, Brianna Wilson and Isaac Barr, who are cousins, each contributed to the prom in a special role as their senior projects.
Biddinger, an 18-year-old who coordinated the event, has volunteered at Just Friends for the past five years. She came up with the idea for a Just Friends senior prom during her freshman year.
Many of the program participants live with full-time caregivers, and the day services programming gives their caregivers an occasional break. But other participants live independently and drop in for socialization and interaction, Clerc said.
“When I first started volunteering at Just Friends, I absolutely fell in love with the people here … and I wanted to do something for them,” Biddinger said.
Her detailed planning included glass Coca-Cola bottles at each table, while balloons and streamers in different colors also filled the room.
“I wanted to make it relatable to them,” she said.
More than $600 was raised through a gospel program at Sixth Street General Baptist, with the proceeds used to purchase items for the prom, Biddinger said.
Her senior-class colleagues each had individual roles in the event.
Wilson, 18, helped prom-goers look their best by doing their hair and makeup, using skills she has learned in the classroom. Wilson is enrolled in the cosmetology program at McDowell Education Center offered through the Columbus Area Career Connection.
Barr, 17, the prom photographer, helped construct a wooden arch where individuals could have their photos taken. The makeshift photo booth featured a pencil sketch of Elvis.
“I’m just really hoping it’s something they’ll look back on as a good time,” he said.
Barr’s mother, Angela Barr, who works as an activities assistant and transportation coordinator at Just Friends, said she was proud of the three high school seniors for their work.
“They’re a real close group of kids,” she said. “They definitely put a lot of hours into it.”
The prom was the second such an event for Just Friends, said Clerc, the executive director
“It’s a wonderful effort and they’ve done a great job,” Clerc said.
Vicky Henderson agreed.
She was appreciative that Biddinger, Wilson and Barr invested so much time to organize the prom for individuals such as her father.
“This is something that should be done every year,” Henderson said. “They bring the old and young together.”
[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”About Just Friends Adult Day Services” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]
Just Friends Adult Day Services was incorporated in 1985 as Adult Day Care Corp. Its first location was First Lutheran Church, moving to its current home at Mill Race Center in 2011.
What: Day services programming includes individual and group activities, with transportation available and a nursing staff on-site.
Who: Just Friends serves clients in Bartholomew, Brown, Decatur, Jackson, Jennings and southern Johnson counties.
When: Hours are 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday
Where: Mill Race Center, 900 Lindsey St.
More information: Visit justfriendscolumbus.com