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Video: Woodstock Students Host Prom for Zack’s Place

  • Zack's Place Executive Director Dail Frates greets Alisa Quimby, of West Lebanon, N.H., and her caregiver Judy Thibodeau, of Hartland, Vt., at the start of their annual prom at Woodstock Union High School in Woodstock, Vt., on April 28, 2017. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Jack Rasmussen, a Woodstock Union High School ninth-grader, leaps into the air while dancing with his mother Sarah Rasmussen, right, and WUHS teacher Keri Bristow at the annual Zack's Place Prom at the school in Woodstock, Vt., on April 28, 2017. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Woodstock Union High School senior Oscar Montano dances with Zack's Place participant Leah Wright, of Windsor, Vt., at the annual Zack's Place Prom at Woodstock Union High School in Woodstock, Vt., on April 28, 2017. Students at the school plan the event and dance with their visitors. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Dana O'Neill, of East Thetford, Vt., helps her daughter Annie, who is a participant at Zack's Place, put on a feather headband after Annie changed into her dancing shoes at the annual Zack's Place Prom at Woodstock Union High School in Woodstock, Vt., on April 28, 2017. Annie looks forward to being part of the event because she loves music. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Zack's Place participants and Woodstock Union High School students pose for a group photo towards the end of the annual Zack's Place Prom at Woodstock Union High School in Woodstock, Vt., on April 28, 2017. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Karissa Mathiesen, of Rochester, Vt., is introduced by Dail Frates as she is escorted into the Zack's Place Prom by Kitty King, one of the program directors at Zack's Place, in Woodstock, Vt., on April 28, 2017. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Woodstock Union High School sophomore Lily Walker Money, right, and Zack's Place participant Jessie Tensen, of Strafford, Vt., dance to "Cotton Eye Joe" at the annual Zack's Place Prom at Woodstock Union High School in Woodstock, Vt., on April 28, 2017. Students at the school plan the event and dance with their visitors. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



STORY BY AIMEE CARUSO
Saturday, May 06, 2017

Woodstock — Dance music came thumping out of the Woodstock Union High School gym on a recent Friday afternoon, where a much-anticipated prom was just revving up. Striding through the doors, Molly Kirby, 30, received quite the welcome.

“Look at you. You are beautiful!” Dail Frates told Kirby, who wore a fancy white headband, printed top, and black skirt. “I have got to twirl you.”

Frates, executive director of Zack’s Place, and the Reading, Vt., resident clasped hands, and around they went. Afterward, a grinning Kirby posed so her mother could snap a picture. The dance, held this year on April 28, is for participants at Zack’s Place, the Woodstock-based enrichment center for people with special needs.

It’s “a big hit,” said Sheila Kirby, who, like her daughter, sported a snazzy black-and-white ensemble. “(Molly) loves to dance. … This is so nice that they do this every year.”

The high school’s Student Council does the planning and decorating and provides the refreshments, with help from members of the National Honor Society.

In the hours before the dance, students and teachers prepared trays of crackers and cheese, hummus and chips, grapes, cookies, and brownies. They also transformed the basketball court into a dance floor. As it has for several years, the decorated gym would also serve as the site of the middle school’s semi-formal, held that evening after the prom.

Balloons, strands of white lights, and green and red laser lights set the scene. Potted Norfolk pines, hibiscus and geraniums from the school’s greenhouses hugged the three-point line, subtly marking the area in which Zack’s Place staff and participants, family members, caregivers, and Woodstock Union students would get down to everything from techno to hip-hop to disco.

“One of the things we tell the Student Council is, ‘We’re going all out for this,’ ” said Keri Bristow, a Woodstock Union High and Middle School teacher and the council’s co-adviser.

Everyone gets dressed up and dances together, Bristow said in a phone interview last month. “It’s one of probably the most joyful occasions you’ll ever be a part of.”

Before the event, which had a Great Gatsby theme, sophomore Claudia Mills prepped food in a school kitchen. Mills, who lives in Barnard, likes helping out because Zack’s Place is “such a great organization,” she said. And the social aspect is also a draw.

“Last year was so great,” she said. “I made new friends.”

Nearby in the gym, senior Kyle Rasmussen checked the Spotify list that would serve as the soundtrack. Rasmussen, Student Council president, tries to help out every year

“It’s really a nice experience for these individuals to get out here and have a fun time and do something they might not get the chance to do otherwise,” he said. And while students help with various aspects of the event, “what really matters is that they have fun and get dancing.”

“That’s really what this night is about, it’s a mixing of the individuals from Zack’s Place and the high school students, and just all having a fun time together,” said Rasmussen, who lives in Killington, Vt. This year’s prom held special significance for his family.

Rasmussen’s younger brother, who sometimes attends the enrichment center, was helping with the preparations, and his family hoped he would stay and dance.

Jack, a freshman, loves to listen to music and dance, but “sometimes when you build something up, he doesn’t want to do it,” Rasmussen said. “But we got him out here, and he’s helping out. … He’s super excited for the music, super excited to be dancing, and I hope he has a wonderful time tonight.”

Clearly, that was the case.

Jack was full of smiles throughout the evening, and left the dance floor only occasionally, once to chat with his mom and ask if he could have a cup of punch.

“I know for many, many years we’re going to this prom,” Sarah Rasmussen said later in an interview.

Partway through the night, as the strains of Abba’s Dancing Queen faded out, Frates took the mic. She introduced the attendees, who entered the gym two by two, to applause, and gave a “huge, huge” thank you to the Woodstock students.

Tomorrow, Zack’s Place would be filled with excitement, but not about the dance, said Frates, who co-founded the nonprofit with her husband, Norm Frates. Instead, participants would have their sights on 2018.

“They look forward to this prom for an entire year, so it’s so exciting to have this opportunity,” she said.

Frates later described how excitement had brewed that afternoon at Zack’s Place, which is named for her late stepson, Zack Frates, one of the first participants at the center.

Everyone brought in their best dresses and best suits, and, after waiting all day, started getting ready at about 2:30.

“We combed each other’s hair and curled it, and put lipstick on and got beautiful for the prom,” Frates said in an interview. “It’s just a lot of fun, very sweet.”

It’s very generous of the students to put on the event, Frates said. And the best part is they and their teachers “come and dance with us.” Singing and dancing are a big part of Zack’s Place, which hosts dance classes regularly and partners with community members to put on a musical every year, she said. “We’re just grateful for the community, that everyone has given us such generous support. It makes our center a community center and not just a center for people with special needs.”

Patricia Peters, whose adult daughter, Sarah, is involved with winter sports though Zack’s Place and the Special Olympics, also noted the importance of community.

“We get to know a lot of the kids because of the unified sports teams,” which include people with and without special needs, the Claremont resident said. “It’s a partnership, a fabulous partnership. I happen to think it’s just as good for them as it is for people at Zack’s Place.”

Sarah Peters, who has attended the prom for several years, said she most enjoys the music and the chance to socialize.

“All my friends are here. It’s great,” said Peters, 29, who wore a long aqua-colored gown and silver jewelry. “It makes Zack’s Place feel really special. It’s really awesome.”

Aimee Caruso can be reached at acaruso@vnews.com or 603-727-3210.