(L-R): Liz Wilcox, Megan Antonitto, Kate Wilcox Rodwell, Ben Wilcox, and Bob Wilcox
A Second Chance at Prom for Neighbors with Disabilities
Unlike so many people with autism or other developmental disabilities, 30-year-old Ben Wilcox was able to experience the joy of attending prom as a young person when attending Mary Cariola Children's Center. It was an inclusive and fun event for Ben – and an experience that his twin sister Kate plans to replicate this September, with a spectacular prom for Ben and about 90 of his peers with disabilities at The Hillcrest Estate in Pavilion.
"One of our main goals for renovating and opening up The Hillcrest Estate to the public is to give back to the community and donate to causes my family feels passionate about," says Kate Wilcox Rodwell, who grew up on the elegant estate, and has spent the past two years overseeing a major renovation to it with her husband, Matthew. "One of the first ideas we had for a community event was a prom for adults with disabilities. My family loved watching the joy attending proms brought Ben when he was a teenager. We are excited to offer him, and adults with disabilities of any age, a similar opportunity full of joy, fun, and inclusion."
While Mary Cariola is a center for youth with disabilities, The Arc of Livingston-Wyoming is the area's largest not-for-profit agency that supports individuals of all ages. Kate turned to The Arc as a co-organizer, and invited every participant of the organization's adult Recreation program to attend the special event, christened “Fall Prom at The Hillcrest Estate.” It is planned for the afternoon and evening of Saturday, September 28.
In a fortunate stroke of serendipity, a pool of about $1,000 that The Arc had raised in partnership with Finger Lakes Cookie Company of Geneseo was already earmarked for a gala that had not yet been planned. Like Kate, Finger Lakes Cookie Company owner Lori Bush has a sibling with a disability; her sister, Linda, attends Recreation programs at The Arc, and is eagerly anticipating the prom.
"I have long envisioned working with The Arc on an event that would make every individual feel safe, included, and loved, and to help their star shine for the evening," Lori says. "That we are able to work together with The Hillcrest Estate makes it even more meaningful. Through the work of many, we can achieve much."
Along for the journey is a list of supporting organizations, each intent on making the prom successful in its particular specialty. The event will be catered by D&R Depot of Leroy; DJ services will be provided by Creative Rhythms Entertainment of Mount Morris; Bush Hill Florist of Perry and Genesee Valley Florist of Geneseo will provide flowers; and cosmetology students from Genesee Valley Educational Partnership will be on hand prior to the event for makeup and hair styling.
The Arc itself will provide transportation services via its fleet of buses and vans. The agency’s Finders Keepers thrift store in Mount Morris is assisting individuals in need of formal wear by opening its inventory of suits and dresses to prom goers. Its Hilltop Printshop in Mount Morris designed stylish invitations in the prom's color theme, which were mailed to guests in August.
On the day of the prom, the grand ballroom will be awash in a sea of navy blue and gold. Parts of the historic 32-room "mansion in the woods" and the lush 120 acre property that surrounds it will be open for photographs by prom guests and their family members.
As attendees approach the estate through the picturesque wooded setting via its winding driveway, they will literally follow in the footsteps of historical figures such as Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain, and Ethel Barrymore, all of whom have all stayed there. The Hillcrest Estate will welcome its prom guests with newly enhanced handicap accessibility, completed as part of an extensive renovation project that began in 2018 to preserve, protect, and restore the estate's historic charm and unique character.
For all of the glorious pomp, it will also be a homecoming for Ben; a return to a childhood home where he would often ride a tractor with his dad or playfully roam the estate with his twin sister Kate.
To the other 90 guests, the event offers an opportunity to create all-new memories. And for many of them, the joy of taking part in a formal prom is long overdue, according to Cathy Sullivan, who oversees The Arc's Recreation team.
"Not everyone with a disability gets the chance to participate in an event like this when they're in school," she says. "You'd be surprised at how many people miss out on things that the rest of us might take for granted. This prom is something special."
For more information about The Hillcrest Estate, visit www.thehillcrestestate.com. For the Finger Lakes Cookie Company, go to www.fingerlakescookiecompany.com. To learn about The Arc of Livingston-Wyoming, visit www.lwarc.org.