This ‘prom’ bridges the generation gap

King and Queen of the prom dancing

Being crowned queen at her “senior prom” was thrilling for Marie Smeets. But it was second to the excitement of whirling about the ballroom dance floor with a “super” boy.

“He was a good little dancer,” Smeets, 85, of Shorewood said. “I didn’t get his name but he was awfully nice to an old lady.”

The boy actually was one of nearly a dozen teen chaperones for the prom, which The Timbers of Shorewood hosts each year for its residents. For Naveen Rao, 17, of Shorewood, a Joliet West High School senior-to-be and National Honor Society member, the June 22 event marked the fourth prom that he chaperoned.

Rao this year invited his more than 50 honor society peers to help out, and 11 responded. They spent an evening serving the residents dinner, escorting them onto the dance floor and assisting in whatever else was needed during the course of the event.

For the bashful Rao, chaperoning The Timbers’ senior prom and volunteering at other events there throughout the year — Halloween and Christmas parties and a large Easter Egg hunt — have broadened his comfort zone.

“The residents love it as much as we do,” said Rao, who plans to major in psychology at Ohio State University after graduation next year. “They always tell us to come back.”

In addition to dinner and dancing, the senior prom featured “An Evening in Paris” theme, the 10-piece Del Bergeson Orchestra playing foxtrots, waltzes and cha-chas, and a mime from the Actors Gymnasium in Evanston, a nonprofit that teaches circus arts.

Shelly Goggins, activities director at The Timbers, is happy to see the teens working with the seniors because both benefit, she said.

“They have a great time dancing, laughing and making memories. The seniors just love it,” Goggins said. “It really adds a special element to an already fantastic night.”

Rao believes the best part about volunteering at The Timbers is the positive connection he makes with the seniors, who enjoy sharing their stories about their past and current activities. In turn, the seniors listen attentively to anecdotes about the teens’ lives.

“I talked to some people in the alumni association band and that was really cool,” Rao said. “I even received an invitation to go to a Bicentennial Pops concert.”

Smeets was impressed by how hard the teens worked at pleasing the residents at the senior prom, especially if they wanted refreshments.

“I didn’t hear one complaint,” Smeets said. “They were such nice boys and girls. Everybody was so happy with them.”

By Denise Baran-Unland
Joliet Herald News – July 5, 2013

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