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Sweethearts Dance brings community together
Posted February 22, 2006

Katie Hillier
Staff Writer


Their laughter and squeals could be heard immediately upon entrance of the parking lot.

This was the night of the annual Sweet Hearts dance, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Feb. 10, at the La Verne Community Center.

This was one of few nights where the special needs community could get together and shake their groove on the dance floor.

The dance was for ages 13 and up, but most of the attendees were over 18.

From the beautifully decorated auditorium with pink and red balloons, thanks to donations from the San Gabriel/Pomona Valley Regional Center Foundation, to the funky hip/hop beats blasting from the stereo, this dance was definitely the place to be.

“These dances serve an important role socially in the special needs community,” said Scott Snider, recreational specialist at the La Verne Community Center.

With a reasonably large turnout of about 200 people it is clear that this event is extremely popular.

Not long ago, too many people would show up at these dances and organizers would have to turn people away.

Now they charge $3 for pre sale tickets and $5 at the door, which has helped calm the crowds.

The Sweets Heart Dance is one of four dances that is held at the Community Center, the other dances are the Prom, the Luau, and the Halloween dance (which is by far the most popular.)

Many of the attendees came to the dance from group homes or were brought by their parents.

Transportation is sometimes difficult, but some families in the special needs community will get together and car pool.

Parents often stay at the dances to chaperone, and they say that support from other families is an important part of these gatherings.

“There are few safe places for these kids to socialize; you can’t just drop them off at the mall,” said Arline Krieger, a retired schoolteacher from Claremont and the president of the Learning Disabilities Association.

Many parents at this event voiced a need for more opportunities for the special needs community to get together and socialize.

“Anytime you can get them in a social situation it’s helpful,” said Krieger, who has a granddaughter within the community.

At the moment, the city of La Verne is working with the city of San Dimas to give more opportunities to those with special needs.

There are many organizations that contribute to these events including The Order of the Alhambrans who have been working with the special needs community for around 20 years.

They volunteer at events and pay for refreshments.

These dances are a community effort and they bring together people from all over to volunteer, chaperone, or just show support.

It is easy to see the connectedness of this community by just being at the dance.

Many of these people are so happy to simply be in the room.

“They might sit there and not dance all night, but they have to be there,” said Linda Grams, a retired schoolteacher from Duarte who adopted two high functioning special needs children, and says that it was the best thing she ever did.

At 8:30 p.m. the music was still blasting and there seemed to be no end in sight to this much-anticipated dance, and with musical laughter bouncing off the walls it was sad to think that it would all be over soon.

“On their way home tonight they’ll start looking forward to their next dance,” said Joanne East, a retired school teacher from West Covina and president of Parents Acting for the Handicapped (PATH.)

Katie Hillier can be reached at khillier@ulv.edu.