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Senior Proms, More Than Just a Dance

Affairs grow in popularity as fundraisers and intergenerational mixers

It was a serenade suited for a king and queen. Clad in black slacks and a white blouse, Marvalene Taylor danced around her husband's wheelchair, holding his hands. He beamed back at her, dapper and dashing in his tux.

See also: Retirement communities say 'Bring in the kids!'

Just like his wife of nearly 51 years, Booker Taylor, 74, a retired truck driver, had his hair and nails spiffed up for the senior prom. "We don't do that very often, just on special occasions," says Marvalene, 71, an assistant manager at South DeKalb Senior Center in Decatur, Ga.

As the sounds of "Louie Louie" and "My Funny Valentine" brought back memories for the Taylors, other attendees enjoyed the festivities at the third annual senior prom in May that raised money for Senior Connections, an Atlanta organization that helps older adults age comfortably at home.

Proms that celebrate aging are being held across the country as fundraisers to drum up dollars for senior centers and services. Many of these events also serve another purpose: They bring together the young and old to mix and mingle.

"The dance floor was packed for most numbers, with parents dancing alongside their adult children," says Sally Eggleston, chief marketing officer at Senior Connections.

Three years of sold-out proms have raised a total of $200,000 for emergency services. If a senior has a pressing need that can't wait for government assistance, the proceeds typically cover short-term meals and urgent home repairs, Eggleston says. They also help leverage matching dollars from other sources.

Juniors meet the seniors

Fundraising — whether large or small — can have a big impact. In April, the Senior Citizens Center of Saratoga Springs hosted an intergenerational prom, the brainchild of Kristi Krulcik, 17, a high school student in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. The event raised $400, exceeding the $250 goal. Executive director Lois Celeste says the center needs money for building repairs and programming.

Kristi has been involved with the senior center for a long time. "My mom always brought my younger brother and I to visit older relatives, so I learned from a young age how much senior citizens enjoy the company of kids," she says. "Senior citizens were part of another generation, and I've always loved listening to their stories and learning about the past through their eyes."

Kristi and fellow members of her school's Key Club organized the affair. They booked Betsy and the Bygones, a band that volunteered its time to play 1950s and '60s hits. And they solicited hors d'oeuvres from restaurants and food vendors. By night's end, a senior prom king and queen were crowned.

"Everyone had a blast," Kristi says. "One woman even made a poodle skirt and wore real saddle shoes."

Next: Dancing the night away. >>

Dancing the night away

Some proms have become a long-standing tradition. The Madison (Wis.) Senior Center recently hosted its 12th annual junior/senior prom in April. The event draws more than a hundred attendees each year, and rounding up about $6,000 since its inception. Students from the University of Wisconsin at Madison were the juniors, and anyone age 50 and older were the seniors.

The college students write grants, dream up the theme and recruit young volunteers for the event. "People change partners, and no one is left alone," says Patricia Guttenberg, the center's program director. This year's theme — "Jailhouse Rock" jukebox — featured music from the 1940s and '50s.

Donations and grants covered a live band, decorations, food, door prizes and other expenses. "Students generally have no money, and many older adults have limited funds, too," Guttenberg says. The prom is more about socializing than fundraising, and there's no cost to attend.

Roman and Marie Chavez have attended the event for at least seven years. This time, Roman asked three young women to dance, and they obliged. "They're good sports," says Roman, 73, a retired postal clerk from Madison. "They give it the old college try."

He dressed up in black pants and a matching short-sleeved shirt, emblazoned with a blue-and-gold dragon on the front and back. His wife donned a pastel-pink dress with cap sleeves.

"We always try to wear something we've had for a while," says Marie, 63, who plays the accordion at a farmers market. "This is in remembrance of years gone by."

You may also like: Dancing the years away. >>

Susan Kreimer is a writer in New York.

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