How did A Night for Our Stars begin?
Emma giving her Bullying presentation
While studying for her Master's Degree in Family Studies, Emma Hazlewood did her thesis on Special Needs Bullying and how it affected her community. In 2015, as an executive board member of the Children's Policy Council, she presented her research to counselors, teachers, social workers, and community educators. According to her research, she discovered that Special Needs Families wanted more support from their community and more acceptance. They loved the idea of a community support sports league or dance to help promote acceptance.
The members of the Children's Policy Council approached Emma about doing a dance for the community. The idea appealed to her, as she herself has twin boys who have cerebral palsy and had never attended a dance in their lives nor had any opportunity to do so. She wanted something for her own kids to experience, so she knew that others would want to experience it as well So, towards the end of 2015, she got to work. With the help of friends and other members of CPC, they pieced together their first small prom. They had no idea if people would even show up, but they did! They had about 80 special needs individuals, and less than 200 people in attendance.
Emma's twins, William and Jonathan
Emma and her twins at the first prom, 2016!
Just a few volunteers at the 2nd Prom, Hollywood stars, 2017!
What started off in the Rainbow City Community Center, had to be moved to Gadsden's Convention Center. The prom was much more popular than she had expected it to be! Now, with more people, they had their 2nd Prom in 2017, with more volunteers and now they had a few sponsors, and over 350 people in attendance. 150 of which had special needs!
And still, Emma sat behind the scenes organizing the event, asking for money, planning decorations, swag bags, volunteers, food, etc. She also received help from the members of the Children's Policy Council who offered a part of their overall budget on top of additional fundraising that Emma was already doing. It became clear that this event was going to be huge!
Emma even collected dresses and gave them out to attendees for the proms in 2017-2019 and held a dress shopping day for families to come and shop for free dresses! It was growing so much!
It was in 2018, that the community jumped on board to help! The event was always free for attendees and their family, but the 3rd prom was proof that there was a need, as the event "sold out" within the first month of tickets being live. This was the year where there were over 400 people, nearly 200 had special needs. This number did not include the number of volunteers who now knew of the event and could not wait to get involved! It is also the 2nd time, they outgrew their venue!
Just a few volunteers at the 3rd Prom, Starry Nights, 2018!
Just a few volunteers at the 4th Prom, The Twinkling Stars of Paris, 2019!
In 2019, the prom had to move again to the Gadsden's newest Venue, "The Venue." 650 people were in attendance, 350+ had special needs, and this was the year where volunteers came from everywhere. The Prom received help from amazing sponsors and everyone had the best time! Dancing, food, prom court, prom king and queen, beautiful decorations, amazing lighting and DJs and photographers. To say the prom was a success, was now an understatement.
Emma, Bart, Daniella, Will and Jonathan
Emma & Bart at prom
The prom began because Emma wanted her kids to experience something that they never had. Emma, who works for a non-profit, and her husband, a local nurse, secretly work all year long to make this happen. But the hard work starts every September to October so the prom can be hosted in April of every year. So many people get to experience this event for the first time! A night for these beautiful attendees to be stars! Just for one night and know that the entire community supports and loves them, just as they are!
Their 3 children, Jonathan, William, and Daniella inspire her every day to make the event bigger and better and is thankful for the help she has and continues to receive along the way! Every time an attendee is crowned and get so excited, or family members cry because it is a judgment free zone and finally, their children get to be themselves and the community is out there dancing with them, Emma knows, it is worth it.
She is thankful for the support and is thrilled with the new help coming on board to make event planning run smoother! Even though every year is done on a small budget, she is proud of the work she has done! And thanks everyone for their support!