Dancing through the fall and spring

For several years now, in the spring and fall semesters, organizations like Urban Missions, the Special Needs Ministry Team, Baylor Best Buddies and the Baylor Special Olympics Volunteer Group have been hosting a dance. The dance during fall is called the Fall Ball Masquerade, and the one held during the spring is called the Spring Fling. Both dances are geared toward accommodating members of the special needs community in and around Baylor University.

This year’s Fall Ball Masquerade is being held in the Russell Gym from 6-8 p.m. on Friday.

La Crescenta, Calif. junior Elena Leon has been involved with three Fall Balls and two of the Spring Fling dances they have in the spring semester.

“These dances give our friends with special needs a chance to come and have fun in a place that they are accepted for exactly who they are,” Leon said.

Leon also appreciates the opportunity that the event holds for volunteers.

“Volunteers are super important to make this event possible,” Leon said. “They are what make our friends that come to the dance feel so special and loved. They are what makes this event something worthwhile.”

For the current dance, Leon is in charge of volunteers and their recruiting, organizing and training.

“The dance serves as a really unique learning opportunity for our volunteers as their perspective of our friends with special needs and their abilities grows and changes in a positive way,” Leon said.

There are typically anywhere from 40-80 people who attend the event including volunteers. The volunteers make sure there’s plenty of open seating as well as an open area for a dance floor.

For people in the special needs community, Leon said she thinks this dance is special because of the specific accommodations it offers.

“This dance is an opportunity that our friends don’t often have,” Leon said. “Because even if they do go to things like their school dances, those dances aren’t designed specifically for them and full of people just like them.”

Since dancing all night is difficult for some of the members of the special needs community, they also have crafts and games tables in addition to the dance area and a variety of snacks and refreshments. They also try to keep the decorations for the event fun and colorful without getting excessive.

Leon chose to volunteer for the event because of her desire to help people with special needs and making them feel welcome.

“I am really passionate about making sure that our friends with special needs know that they are loved and that they have a fun event like this where they can come and be themselves,” Leon said. “Our friends don’t always get the chance to shake what their mama gave them and let loose in an environment where that is welcomed and encouraged.”

Springfield, Mo. senior Selby Lennard has been involved in volunteering and planning for the Urban Missions Special Needs dances since her sophomore year at Baylor.

“Our Fall Ball Masquerade is one of my favorite events that happens in the fall semester,” Lennard said.

Lennard’s job as a student leader consists of logistics, helping organize the event, coordinating with risk management, ordering all of the tables and chairs and helping to make sure that the dance itself is fun and safe for everyone.

“It provides an outlet for individuals with special needs in the Waco area with an evening where they can be free to be themselves in a safe environment complete with friends, dancing, crafts and costumes,” Lennard said. “It’s always a hit!”