Nova Scotia rolls out the red carpet for a ball celebrating people with disabilities

After two years of waiting to wear her prom dress, Jada Keddy finally gets to show it off on the red carpet — but not at an average dance.

Keddy heads to the first Illuminate event in Shelburne, Nova Scotia, where the guest list is made up exclusively of people with disabilities.

“It’s amazing. I’ve always wanted to see something like this,” 19-year-old Keddy said recently from his home in Liverpool.

“It doesn’t matter if you have a disability…it’s about each of us has a heart inside that we know we are unique.”

The Shelburne Fire Station is transformed into a fairytale castle for the April 9 event, complete with a red carpet, catered dinner, dancing and professional photography.

Jada Kelly of Liverpool says she is thrilled to be part of Nova Scotia’s first Illuminate event after seeing how beautiful a similar event was in Moncton. (Radio Canada)

At the end of Illuminate, each participant will be crowned king or queen.

Keddy said the crown represents strength and is “unique” in its own way.

“One way I talk about being unique is saying you can do anything.”

Formal dresses and suits will be provided for all who wish, while hair and makeup artists will help guests get ready. Transport has been arranged for those in Shelburne and Queens counties, but those from further afield who wish to come are welcome.

But people can also wear whatever they want, whether it’s a costume or something they have on hand, like Keddy’s black dress with “sunset colors” cascading down the bottom.

Since Keddy graduated in the spring of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown a wrench in her original prom plans.

Although this is the first event of its kind in the province, Keddy attended a similar night to shine in Moncton, New Brunswick a few years ago.

Keddy said that although she was a little apprehensive at first, it was “so much fun” and offered something she had never seen.

“It’s so different because there are so many other people like me who just want to have fun, and some of them can’t go to school dances,” Keddy said.

Pastor Joanne Ozon of Hope Wesleyan Church organizes Illuminate with the help of a team of volunteers, but noted that it is a community event and not a church.

So far they expect around 100 people to attend, each of whom will be paired with a volunteer overnight ‘buddy’ to show them around if they don’t have their own caregiver. or parent with them.

And Illuminate isn’t just a party for young people, Ozon said, as anyone 13 and older is invited. They saw middle-aged guests, while some volunteers are over 80 years old.

Organizer Joanne Ozon says she hopes the Illuminate event will be memorable for all guests. (Haley Ryan/CBC)

Ozon said she was inspired to bring the event to life after attending the Moncton event alongside Keddy and her own brother, who has visual and cognitive disabilities.

“For me, it’s an emotional night because they are the ones who have been overlooked for so long, especially during the pandemic,” Ozon said.

“But the moment they walk the red carpet and the moment they are crowned king and queen are the two highlights of the night that words can’t even describe. And they’re so full of joy, and that’s what we’re looking for, just to see joy and contentment.”

There is still room for about 100 more people, Ozon said, but registration forms must be completed by March 15 so they have time to arrange transportation and other details.

Because they want everyone to be comfortable, Ozon said they accommodate sensory issues so there are no flashing lights or loud music.

Guest Jeannine Pellerin is greeted by the RCMP Honor Guard at the 2019 Night to Shine event in Moncton. (Sent by Lacewood Studios)

Her only hope is that everyone walks away feeling like it was “the best night of her life.”

“That’s why I think they deserve, as much as anyone else who goes to a ball, a night that I will never forget.”

They’ve raised around $10,000 so far to cover costs, but are still looking for financial support to ensure Illuminate can become an annual event.

Ozon said she would like to see these nights appear in the province in Halifax or Cape Breton.

About Keith Johnson

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