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Disabled to shine during 'White Ball'

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

Throughout the year, clients of The Arc of Clayton County and the Clayton Center focus on coping with intellectual or developmental disabilities. On Saturday, they'll get the rare opportunity to be focus strictly on their dance moves.

Both The Arc of Clayton County and the Clayton Center will host a "White Ball" this Friday, Aug. 27, from 6 p.m., to 11 p.m., at the Morrow Center, located at Southlake Mall.

The gala experience will give those with mental disabilities a chance to dance, don stunning gowns and suits, and interact with the community in a fun and festive setting.

The Arc (formally the Association for Retarded Citizens), is a national organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for the developmentally disabled through education, lobbying, and fund-raising. Virginia Ford, the president of the Clayton chapter of The Arc, and a former social worker with the Clayton Center, said the gala was once a signature event of the Clayton Center that is being revived after a five-year hiatus.

"We started out in 2000 with a cotillion," Ford said. "After I retired [from the Clayton Center in 2005], they didn't have anymore. [Since then,] many of the constituents would walk up to me and ask me if we could have another ball.

"A lot of people [with disabilities] don't have the opportunity to have the chance to show off," she continued. "It's giving them a chance to mix with the community. [In past galas] it was a mixed crowd, not just people with disabilities."

According to Ford, more than 200 people are expected to attend the ball, which will include a formal dinner, dancing, short speeches by local advocates for the mentally disabled, and a raffle. During the night, raffle participants will have the chance to win a portable television, a digital camera, or a 32-inch high-definition television.

Locally, the Clayton Center provides treatment and assistance to those suffering with mental disabilities and addictive diseases. Bob Reynolds, chairman of the Clayton County Community Services Board, which oversees the Clayton Center, said the excitement surrounding Friday's gala is similar to when they had their first one in 2000.

"The clients, when they heard about it, they were excited and they never have lost their excitement," Reynolds said. "Most people like to dance, especially people who don't have the opportunity but very rarely. We don't have to add a lot of extra things, because they want to dance ... that's why they are there."

Ford said clients of The Arc of Clayton County and the Clayton Center, who participate in the White Ball, will get the star treatment, with Watkins Funeral Home in Jonesboro providing limousine transportation. She said that several local stores have provided discounts, and that individual citizens have purchased gowns and suits to make the event more affordable for those with disabilities.

Ford said that for many, the gala will represent their first formal dance and their first time in a gown or a suit.

"They love to show off their outfits ... Don't we all?" Ford said. "When they put on their beautiful gowns and they get all of these praises on how they look, that is what I like the most. This is their night out ... this is their night to show off."

The Arc of Clayton County is accepting financial donations to offset the cost of the ball for clients. Ticketsl, which include a full-course meal, are $40. Raffle tickets are on sale until Friday for $2 each.

For more information, call Virginia Ford, at (404) 281-7322.