September in Northern Kentucky means Oktoberfest celebrations, pumpkin festivals and football. Now a new tradition may be making its mark on the month: The Royal Prom.
The dining, dancing, partying extravaganza for people with disabilities aged 14 and older gets under way Friday at Crossroads church in Florence. In its third year, the Royal Prom seems to have become part of Northern Kentucky, said Brian Kremer, director of Northern Kentucky Capernaum, which organizes the event with local churches, businesses and organizations.
“It seems like everywhere I go people are talking about how much they love the prom or asking about next year’s prom,” Kremer said. “It’s amazing that this has taken root and is something people look forward to each year.”
Kremer likes what this says about Northern Kentucky. “We are serious about loving our friends [with disabilities] in this community,” he said.
That love will be on full display when 350 guests – a full house – converge on the spacious venue at Crossroads to celebrate together thanks to the work of nearly 700 volunteers. Kremer said the guests and volunteers “come from every corner of Northern Kentucky.”
Andy Dalton returns
Much of the prom will be similar to years past, Kremer said, noting that many prom guests like consistency.
Kremer said organizers are “delighted and thrilled” to have Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton return for the second year to announce each guest for a walk down the red carpet. The red carpet starts the night on a high note as volunteers line up to cheer guests on their way into the prom.
Volunteer escorts will welcome guests and accompany them throughout the prom to help ensure everyone has a good time and stays safe. Guests will dine on meals provided by Chick-fil-A in Florence and Newport and dessert from Gigi’s Cupcakes in Florence. They’ll receive flowers – boutonnieres or wrist corsages – and will have the opportunity to hit the dance floor, play games and get their photo taken.
New this year
Some new features this year include a photo booth for more informal, fun photos and jugglers to entertain the crowd.
Also new this year will be the registration and pick-up processes. Guests will register at a tent in the parking lot before walking the red carpet. Registered guests should have received in the mail a wristband they are to wear at prom. The bands note dietary restrictions, allergies and other health information for their escorts to be aware of.
At registration, each guest’s driver will also receive a wristband with the guest’s name on it. The driver must present the wristband at pick-up to make sure everyone goes home with the right person. If drivers are sharing drop-off and pick-up duties, Kremer said, they can use cell phones to send photos of the wristbands to each other and those will be honored at pick-up.
Traffic officers will be new this year, as well, to make getting in and out of Crossroads easier.
Safety has always been a focus. A team of doctors, emergency medical technicians and nurses will wear scrubs so that they can be easily identified in case of a medical emergency. Also, qualified medical personnel will be available if anyone needs help in the restroom.
Volunteers working security will wear referee jerseys for easy identification. Many workers will have radios so that they can communicate easily about any needs or issues, Kremer said.
Eric Northrup is back too
Each prom features an uplifting faith message, and this year’s speaker will be Eric Northrup. Northrup is a rock star in this crowd. He started Northern Kentucky Capernaum in 2009 and was instrumental in starting the Royal Prom in 2014. He moved to Cincinnati last year to establish Capernaum there.
Capernaum is a nondenominational Christian ministry that reaches out to teens with disabilities to foster relationships and share the message of God’s love. It is a branch of Young Life, a national ministry in many area high schools. Capernaum organizes events throughout the year, offering Bible studies, monthly “club nights,” summer camps, and other outings.
Joining Capernaum in the prom effort are area churches, businesses and organizations. You can visit the Royal Prom’s website, where, if you scroll down on the home page, you can find a list of prom sponsors. A committee of ten to 15 people work throughout the year, devoting an incredible amount of time, energy, thought and sacrifice, Kremer said. “I’m so thankful for everybody on that committee,” he said. “To me they are heroes.”
Changing the culture
Kremer, as Northrup did before him, talks about changing the culture. So often, people with disabilities are isolated and not given the same opportunities as others, Kremer said. He talks about a society where people with disabilities are seen for the people they are on the inside. He talks about a society where people with disabilities are accepted and loved.
It’s only one night. … We want this to be just what our friends experience every day.
The Royal Prom creates such a night, but, Kremer said, “It’s only one night. … We want this to be just what our friends experience every day.”
While seeing the joy of the prom-goers is richly rewarding, some of the best stories, Kremer said, come from people working at the prom. “It really leaves its mark on our volunteers,” he said. “I encourage people to bring tissues because I guarantee you at some point there will be tears in your eyes.”
Organizers hope that the prom is opening people’s eyes to see more clearly the lives of people living with disabilities. “We get to impact the community too and help change the culture,” Kremer said. “There’s so much more to this than just a prom.”