The Plant City Family YMCA is now offering ‘A Special Night Out,’ a recurring event for those with intellectual disabilities that features monthly themed parties full of fun activities and refreshments.
The Plant CityFamily YMCA is making waves throughout Tampa Bay thanks to its new program called, “A Special Night Out.”
The monthly event provides a safe space for persons with intellectual disabilities to enjoy new experiences, meet new people and have the night of their lives.
“The Y is an inclusive organization open and welcoming to all - regardless of ability,” Patton said. “The Y believes that, in a diverse world, we are stronger when we are inclusive, when our doors are open to all and when everyone has the opportunity to learn, grow and thrive.”
Elizabeth Patton, family activities coordinator, joined the Y a little more than a year ago and has already made a lasting impact on the community she serves. In February she joined the ranks of 200 volunteers at Plant City’s inaugural “Night to Shine" event, a prom night experience started by the Tim Tebow Foundation “for people with special needs ages 14 and older,” hosted by First Baptist Church.
While volunteering upstairs in the respite room, she had the chance to bond with the parents of the prom kings and queens and chat about the needs of their families.
“A mom had popped downstairs to watch the kids be crowned kings and queens and she came back up and looked at me and said, ‘My daughter is down there singing karaoke.’ I just smiled and said that was great, but she shook her head and said, ‘Elizabeth you don’t understand. My daughter is nonverbal. She hasn’t spoken in three years.’ Then I had to try not to cry,” Patton said.
Patton vowed on the spot she was going to make something happen. She took her passion back to the YMCA and was approved to create an event that would offer a nurturing and welcoming environment for the community to have a carefree night of fun.
She began to sit down with some of the Exceptional Student Education instructors at Plant City High School and talk about the best way to offer an inclusive and beneficial event. Together, “A Special Night Out” was formed and on July 13 the new program welcomed approximately 10 students for a night of line dancing and music. The events are open to anyone high school age and up so they had a mix of teenagers all the way up to adults in their 50s.
Though everyone was shy as the music began to play, once the instructors got them on their feet and
began to teach them the moves they quickly shed those hesitations and were soon striking up conversations with their fellow attendees and showing off their skills on the dance floor.
The next event, held Aug. 17, was a Karaoke Dance Party. Again, the jaunty music played while the attendees quietly enjoyed the finger foods and softly talked to one another. Once one attendee, Jade Curran, stepped up to the mic, however, and the party blasted into full swing.
“She was teaching me songs and dance moves that I had never even heard of,” Patton said.
Jade Curran’s mother, Kim Curran, said the great thing about everyone that attended was they don’t necessarily need rigid scheduling and elaborate programs. If they have music or a microphone they are more than ready to party.
“All of the kids, not just Jade, just really loved this,” Kim Curran said. “The parents too, we just love that the Y is doing this. We’ve been to both of them now and we will be at every single one as long as we’re available… This is just one more way for Plant City to incorporate kids with special needs with the rest of the community. We love it.”
Other local YMCA’s are following Plant City’s lead. When Patton brought up the feedback following the first event at a meeting one leader spoke up and said that not even a week after Plant City’s inaugural event they had people calling asking when their facility was going to host an event of their own.
"These events are completely free and open to everyone that’s high school age or older,” Patton said. “This isn’t a member benefit, we’re not doing this for revenue or memberships. We’re doing this because the Y is committed to supporting its community and offering events like this one to help everyone benefit from group interactions and physical activities.”
Those interested in connecting with the Y should visit its Facebook page. The event will be around the middle of each month and will have a variety of different themes. If they end up outgrowing their space they will move to the gymnasium, pool deck, multipurpose room or possibly relocate to an even larger venue.
She said they may have painting classes, sports nights, family game nights, an aquatics event and many other exciting themed parties.
“It’s just a lot of fun,” Patton said. “It’s one of those things that we’re all like, ‘Why haven’t we been doing this for ages?’ It’s a big hit and everyone —the kids, the staff, their parents — we are all just having a blast.”