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Special teens get special night on the town

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

Teens and young adults with physical and mental disabilities will have a chance to put on their nicest outfits and dancing shoes at the Second Annual Jingle Ball on Friday at the Jim Huie Recreation Center.

From 6:30-9 p.m., the Clayton County Parks and Recreation Therapeutic Division will host the semi-formal event, which will feature the vocal talents of Cara Towe, a local singer with a learning disability, as well as storytelling from Judy Ridenhour of the Clayton County Headquarters Library.

For over 20 years, the Therapeutic Division has offered summer camps and other programs for youths and adults in the county with disabilities. The end of the year celebration has been a tradition for 18 years, but last year was the first year the celebration became a bit classier, according to division manager, Shawna Nelms.

"The Jingle Ball used to be called the Christmas Dinner and Dance," said Nelms. "This is the first year that it has been more formal."

Nelms said the event serves as a prom to many county residents seeking help for their disabilities, but in a setting that is often more comfortable than a public-school setting.

"With programs like the Jingle Ball, there is no pressure ... no stress to fit in," said Nelms. "It gives them a chance to let them be around individuals that are more like themselves ... everybody is on the same playing field."

Torieon Moses, a therapeutic coordinator with Parks and Recreation, said that in the eight years she has been working with young people with disabilities, this is one of the more positive programs she has seen.

"They just come in and let their hair down," said Moses. "That's what I enjoy about working with this population. They are genuine about everything they do, no matter what the situation is. They walk in the door and they are just ready to enjoy themselves."

Ridenhour, a retired mental health social worker and a librarian, has hosted several reading activities around the county, including an activity in July at the Headquarters Library with her son, Chuck D., from the famous rap group, "Public Enemy."

"I'm really excited about it," said storyteller Ridenhour. "What I have learned with most people who get labeled as mentally challenged and disabled is that they are really not, and they will rise to the occasion. I think they will really enjoy it."

The dance will begin at 6 p.m,. on Friday, Dec. 7. The Jim Huie Recreation Center is located at 9045 Tara Blvd., in Jonesboro. The event is free, but all attendees must pre-register by calling (770) 473-5722.