One of my favorite and most worthwhile nights every single year is a night called Jesus Prom. It’s a really cool event hosted by Northside Christian Church in Wadsworth, Ohio that I am proud to call my home church. Today, I sat down with Doris Zigler, the event organizer and spoke with her about the event; what it is, and how much it means to many people. Here is a transcript of that interview.
I’m here with Doris Zigler, one of the organizers for Jesus Prom. How long have you been involved with Jesus Prom?
Since the beginning when Seth Amerine was here and got it all started.
What exactly is your role with Jesus Prom?
I guess I’m the leader of all the leaders.I just keep things organized, plan the meetings, make sure everything is where it’s supposed to be, and answer questions.
Has that always been your role since the beginning?
Well I’ve done several things. The first year, I led the decorations team and then the next two years, I did hospitality. Those were the three years that Seth was here. He started looking for someone that third year to take it over for him since he knew that he was going to be leaving. He asked me that third year if I would interested in this. So for the last three years, I’ve been doing this.
If someone who had no idea what Jesus Prom was asked you what it was, what would you tell them?
Well, it’s a night where our church just celebrates and parties with people with special needs. It’s all about them. Everything we plan, we plan for them. It’s to give them a night to just be themselves and be free to wander and do what they want to do in a safe environment. It’s a good time for our church family to be around others who aren’t just like them and to come out of their comfort zone and meet somebody new.
So can you just describe what the night is? Like take us through the night as if you were a guest or a guide. How does the night go?
When they come in the front doors they are met with a group of people who are clapping for them and cheering for them and welcoming them. There is a red carpet spread out for them. This year they will be directed to an announcer who is going to announce them and their guides name. Then their guide will step forward out of the group and come and get them and help them to sign in at the hospitality table and then for the rest of the evening they will be free to do anything they want to do. We’re doing something different with the banquet this year. Instead of having everyone eat at the same time, there is going to be staggered times. So when they come in if they want to eat right away they can go see if the table is ready. If there are no tables ready, we’ll kind of do it like a restaurant. We’ll write their names down and how many is in their party and they can check back in. We’ve outgrown our banquet hall. So we decided to do this so that we could accommodate more people.
Speaking of that, How many guests do we have this year?
Today we have 176 signed up and we’ve decided that we are going to cap it at 200. So we have room for 24 more because not only is that 24 guests but it’s also parents and caregivers. So right now we’re at like 319 dinners.
Do you have anything for the parents and caregivers throughout the night?
Yes, if someone is in a condition where they need constant care and looking after, some of the parents who are caregivers will stay with them and eat with the in the banquet hall. We ask that there only be one so that we can accommodate more guests. The rest of the overflow go upstairs to the youth rooms upstairs and they set up tables up there. When they are done with the buffet, they can go next door amd we have a chiropractor that comes and does neck and shoulder massage for the parents. We have a nice relaxing meal upstairs for them away from the chaos downstairs.
How are we doing on volunteers?
We need a lot more volunteers. The smaller teams fill up. The kitchen team, servers, and paparazzi. But what we really need are guides. As of today, we probably need about 100 more guides.
What’s your favorite part of the whole thing?
Well, I love it all, but when they start walking in on the red carpet, I just cry. When they are all waiting in the parking and we go to open the doors, all the car doors fly open because they just can’t wait to get in here. And you can see them just rushing up here with the smiles on their faces. Some of them just love that red carpet because they can just dance and show off.
So one thing that I love about Jesus Prom is just how much the church comes together, especially inter-generationally. Have you noticed this and can you talk about it a little bit?
Yes, even just within the planning teams. We have 18 different teams and each one has their own leader. And we’re all different ages, men, women, a mixed group. And we probably wouldn’t have become as good friends as we are in any other setting because we all would go to a certain class or group on Sunday and they’re all based on age or whether you have children or not but yeah, I see that in all the teams. There’s older people and younger people and they all work together so well.
That’s awesome. As a high school leader in the church, I love Jesus Prom because we can tell our high schoolers that this is a way that you can be involved in the church and actually be the church. Have a lot of high school kids signed up this year?
Yes! Quite a few. I think that sometimes they wait til the last minute. It seems that November is forever away.
How many man hours would you estimate go into planning Jesus Prom throughout the year? Not just the night of but all year?
Oh golly. I don’t even know. I know how many I put into it. I would say probably 500 throughout the year. I know each team leader does their own thing like decorations meet throughout the year to plan and make the decorations.
So 500 is a conservative estimate?
So minimum 500 hours planning to go into a 3 hour event. Do you think it’s worth it?
Because it just brings so much joy. You see the result of it. People who have never been to Northside before. Every time I see one of our special needs guests come forward to get baptized I just think that happened just because of a party. You know God can do amazing things in all situations. I think it’s also good for the parents to be loved on upstairs. Having a brother-in-law and sister-in-law that deal with this on a daily basis, I know that as much as they love their son, they get tired. I mean his constant energy and not being able to fully communicate with them. This night is a good night for them to be able to talk to other parents that are going through some of the same challenges.
What options are there for people still wanting to volunteer?
Well guide is the big thing. There are also still a lot of openings for people wanting to help decorate the building. Or people wanting to help with passing out the dresses that we’ve collected for the girls. There’s just two people signed up right now to do that. People are coming in on Thursday night to set up the tables and chairs and then that same group is going to put the tables and chairs away on Friday night since they already know where everything goes.
So the big need is for guides. Can you describe that job a little bit?
It is just being with the person and letting them do what they want and making sure that they’re safe. Some of them want to communicate more than others. You just let them lead the way. You tell them what’s available. Really the guide just needs to make sure that they get their picture taken and that they eat.
Some people might be hesitant to sign up to volunteer because working with special needs individuals can be uncomfortable if you’re not used to it. What would you say to someone who feels hesitant in that way?
I would say that if you haven’t been to Jesus Prom and you are uncomfortable with the whole idea, the first year you should come and just go to the karaoke room. You don’t have to really communicate with anyone, you just come and cheer for them. Or come and just walk through the hallway during the night and I think you’ll realize that it’s not nearly as difficult as you thought it was.
A huge thanks to Doris for her time to sit down and talk with me about Jesus Prom this year and for her time throughout the year planning it. As she said, Northside still needs a lot of volunteers for this. It doesn’t matter if you’re a member at Northside or have never set foot in the door. If you want to do something to help someone else out and bring joy into their lives, please sign up as a volunteer. Go here to sign up or just to find out more about it. I can guarantee you won’t regret it. As always, thank you for reading. Please take the time to click on the link in the lower right hand corner of your screen to follow the blog.