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Monday, May 20, 2024
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Adults dance at a prom philanthropy event at Sheraton Madison Hotel Ballroom on April 13, 2024.

Madison community members head back to prom

The Vera Court Neighborhood Center provided older Madison residents the opportunity to relive their prom days with its “Prom Encore” event, fostering fundraising efforts and a night of food, fun and dancing.

The Vera Court Neighborhood Center hosted an adult prom event, “Prom Encore,” on Saturday to raise funds for the local community while simultaneously celebrating Madison’s older population. 

The event aimed to offer a historically overlooked group, those over 60, the opportunity to come together both philanthropically and at the gala itself. 

Vera Court is an independent nonprofit that covers many bases in the Madison community, including providing educational resources, nutritional meals and cultural resources to local families in need. 

Founded in 1994, the center’s development director, Jalen Greenlee, applauded how far the program has come in its 30 years of establishment.

“Vera Court was birthed out of a local apartment building by mothers that wanted to see a change,” Greenlee said. “Now we have two thriving neighborhood centers that serve over 7,000 people each year.”

Richard Jones Jr., executive director of Vera Court Neighborhood, told The Daily Cardinal the organization aims to “sustain and empower our neighborhoods.” 

“Sustainability can come from supporting folks where they are today, and empowering is helping them have a stronger future,” Jones Jr. said. “How that plays out happens to be based on the creativity of our staff and the feedback of our community, so we’re very flexible in how we reach those goals.”

In Saturday’s case, the organization’s flexibility in how they spread their influence led Vera Court to “Prom Encore.”

“Somebody from our team said, ‘We should host a prom, because wouldn’t it be nice if we could do prom again,’” Jones Jr. said. “No matter what your prom experience was — whether it was the best night of your life, the worst night of your life or you skipped it entirely — we all deserve to do prom again.” 

The community embraced the idea, ecstatic to have an opportunity to go buy a new dress, strap on their dancing shoes and make the most of a night that, for many, is not typical. 

For community member Aundrey Newsome, the adult prom event meant the world. 

“Just to have something like this, for people over 60, I think it’s amazing,” Newsome said. “Sometimes you feel forgotten, and just to see that you’re not means so much.”

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Newsome’s date of choice for the night was her sister, Brenda Hewing. Hewing was all smiles, as she said the Prom Encore event was a monumental moment for her. 

“I’ve never been to a prom,” Hewing said. “It’s my first one!” 

Jones Jr. said countless other individuals echoed Newsome and Hewing’s praise. 

“[Madison community members] told me, ‘We feel seen,’” he said. “It was from that moment on that we knew that this needed to be an annual event so we could celebrate our older adults consistently.”

The adult prom was not solely for the good times and music. At the event, the Vera Court Neighborhood unveiled a new membership program, the Monthly Change Makers Club, where the raised contributions go toward improving the lives of Madison families in need.

In a speech addressing the Prom Encore audience, Jones Jr. urged the crowd to think outside the box regarding what a typical philanthropic donor looks like.

“We see traditional donors as rich affluent people who can give thousands of dollars without wincing or blinking an eye,” Jones Jr. said. “When we think about contributors, we often don’t see ourselves as people who can fit the mold.”

But in the case of Vera Court Neighborhood Center, donors do not need to fit that stereotype. Jones Jr. told the audience all they had to do was “put in on it.”

“When we’re talking, ‘putting in on it,’ we understand there is something we want to accomplish, something we want to buy or something we want to do that we are either not able or not willing to do ourselves,” Jones Jr. said. “So what do we do? We put in on it.” 

Monthly memberships ranged from $10 a month up to $100 a month, with the precedent being how much a community member could donate was more than enough. Combined with other’s donations, Jones Jr. said even a little goes a long way. 

As Jones Jr. wrapped up his speech, he called up members from the crowd and designated them the “Prom Court.”

Dressed up in their finest, Prom Court nominees Renee Taylor, Maria Ferreira and Darcy Little were reminders of what the night was all about: celebrating community.

“Prom Encore” was a night for celebrating the countless volunteers who aim to give back to the community, families who turn to the center for support and local Madison residents eager and willing to spend their Saturday night raising money for mutual benefit.

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