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‘Senior Prom’ bridges the gap between senior citizens and county students

MADISON — Whether you’re a senior in high school or a senior in life, you’re never too old for an afternoon of fun and games.

After a Mardi Gras celebration with the Rotary Club of Madison a few days prior, the Madison Senior Center kept the fun going March 9 with a little help from the United Way Youth Leadership Council. At the Mardi Gras-themed “Senior Prom,” the Madison Senior Center opened its doors to seniors from all over the area and the youth who organized, decorated and conducted the big event, which has been delighting seniors for about two decades.

Attendees of all ages donned some Mardi Gras beads and mingled over food before cheering on their teams in various Minute-To-Win-It-style games.

A student races to win the round of games as other attendees look on. (Record Photo/Kendyl Hollingsworth)

Council Advisor Helen Brice said the tradition of holding a Senior Prom provides a “wonderful interaction between the generations” and also serves as a way for the council to give back to their community, something many of the youth said they enjoy about putting on the event.

“I think with this event especially, you get to interact with the seniors citizens, and they know so much,” said Sarah Tran, a Grissom High student who has been involved with the Senior Prom since her freshman year of high school. “They’re really wise … and I think that talking to them and hearing their life stories, it’s really nice to know that they have so many diverse backgrounds, and when they ask about us, they give us advice … so I really like that.”

Elizabeth Ratliff, Marie Allen and Peggy Robinson are three women who have enjoyed the Senior Prom in the past. This year, they paid high compliments to the students and the work they put into the event.

“They did a wonderful job decorating,” Robinson said, and Ratliff agreed. “The way they have the tables set up this time, it’s easier to visit with each other,” she added. “The food was out of this world. … The kids are fabulous.”

“They’ve all been nice,” Allen added. “The kids are great.”

From left to right: Peggy Robinson, Elizabeth Ratliff, Vickie Parker, Marie Allen. (Record Photo/Kendyl Hollingsworth)

While many had experienced the Senior Prom before, this year saw a few new attendees join in the fun. Betty Barnes arrived decked out in her own Mardi Gras gear, from her purple sweatshirt and light-up beads to the Mardi Gras-themed masquerade mask on her forehead—an outfit she said her daughter helped her put together.

With a hearty laugh and a twinkle in her eye, it was clear that Barnes was ready to have a good time. “I had four strokes, and they said I wouldn’t never walk again,” she said with a laugh. “I don’t give up. … I do what I can. I can get up there and try to dance. … I’m doing pretty good.”

Ratliff and Robinson praised the Madison Senior Center and its staff for holding fun activities and events, as well as providing them with a place where they can socialize and keep their spirits up.

“This place has saved a lot of old folks … from being at home and sitting and getting depressed,” Robinson said.

Ratliff noted how wonderful the staff has treated her and the rest of the seniors.

“This center is a fabulous center,” she raved. “It really, truly is, and it starts at the top with Vickie (Parker, director), and then her staff. They are so caring and loving people. They don’t treat us like a number … they treat us like people. You feel at home. You feel they really care about us, and it’s wonderful. This is just a great place to be. … (Vickie) sets the tone for us to feel like family here.”

Since the youth council consists of students from all over Madison County, some were not familiar with the Madison Senior Center and places like it until they became involved with United Way.

“I never knew this place existed,” said Abigail Anderson, who is in her first year on the council. “The council (allows me) to interact with more people and realize that there’s more to Huntsville than just what I know, and I can help others (with that).”

Grissom student Julia Pettersen said joining the council has helped her become more involved and learn of the needs that exist across the county. “I definitely wanted an opportunity to put myself out there more, and now, after joining United Way … there’s so many opportunities just to go out there and volunteer that I definitely would not have known about if I wasn’t in United Way,” she said.

From left to right, Grissom students Julia Pettersen, Abigail Anderson, Charis Harrison and Sarah Tran. (Record Photo/Kendyl Hollingsworth)

These lessons and more are exactly how United Way aims to benefit students on the Youth Leadership Council, according to Brice.

During their time on the council, which meets from September to May each year, Brice said students learn to plan and work within a budget, engage with each other and ask for help when necessary. They also exercise their creativity while working with their theme, then work together to bring their vision to life. In addition to planning and executing events, Brice said the students are required to raise funds before allocating them to various partner programs under the United Way umbrella. “The council members themselves hold an allocation meeting where they decide how much each of the applying agencies will receive, and in this way, they mirror how United Way does their funding as well,” she said.

According to Brice, these micro-grants are usually given to United Way agencies who fund youth- or student-oriented programs in the county. Through this, the students “learn about the needs within the community they may not know about, how they can volunteer or help, and how the money they raise can directly impact a program to help someone in need.”

The United Way Youth Leadership Council is open to all high school students in Madison County. They must apply and go through an interview process before being accepted into the council, and applications will be available from May through August. Until then, any questions can be directed to Brice at uwylc@uwmadisoncounty.org or 256-536-0745.

“My goal is that (the students) internalize volunteerism as part of their DNA and always share their gifts with whatever community they choose to live in,” Brice added. “I also hope they gain a foundation of respect and compromise with others because they will need that going forward in life.”

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