Residents bust a move (but not a hip) at their Senior Prom

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Mary Gustafson, McKnight's Staff Writer
Mary Gustafson, McKnight's Staff Writer

As a lowly high school student, I was never able to muster up much enthusiasm for the prom. Dancing in public? “Ewww… ,”  my 17-year-old brain responded, more often than not.

Fifteen years later, this wallflower has found a prom she'd be happy to attend.

Residents at Baltimore's Frankford Nursing and Rehabilitation celebrated their 4th annual Senior Prom Wednesday as part of the facility's Nursing Home Week celebration.

In a lucky bit of timing, Nursing Home Week just happens to fall during the same week that area high school students celebrate their own proms. Unlike my high school self, the residents and staff in this community say they wouldn't miss this prom for the world. 

“Staff who work that day sometimes say, ‘I'm too tired to come back,' but they all leave work that day saying, ‘I'm glad I came,” says Sharon Harris, 49, Frankford's activities director, who organizes the event.

The facility's prom has every element that a traditional high school prom has — save for some scandalized adult chaperones forced to keeping the dancing PG-rated.

A DJ is hired to provide music. Residents have their hair professionally styled. Nursing home volunteers track down clothing for all the residents, including items such as gowns, dress, suits, shirts, blouses, ties, wigs, jewelry and even make-up. Dietary staffers work to prepare an extra special evening meal. 

The facility's dining room is decorated to approximate Martin's West, an upscale and popular spot for proms and weddings. A professional photographer takes pictures of all the attendees, using a mocked-up Martin's West stairwell as the backdrop. Every attendee gets a framed photo to take home.

Staff and residents vote for their own prom kings and queens. (There are a staff king and queen as well as a resident king and queen.)

Kings and queens are honored with special seating at the head banquet table and have their own special dance. Harris says the kings and queens are crowned on the Monday before the prom, with a royal court ceremony.

And, everyone who is able dances. No wallflowers here.

“Those who can't will attempt to make moves in their wheelchairs by patting feet and moving shoulders side-to-side,” Harris explains. “But what makes me know they are enjoying themselves are the smiles. Of course, safety is always a factor — most of the residents will have a staff or guest partner — especially if they may be weak on the feet.  But we allow them to make some moves within limits.” 

Harris says the prom grows more well-attended every year, with more members of the Baltimore community and residents' families getting involved. Though it requires a lot of time and energy to plan each time, Harris says it's worth it. 

“I really enjoy planning this event and when I reach my senior years, I only pray that someone like me will have a ‘Senior Prom' idea, too.”


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Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Marty Stempniak.