Prom turns back the clock

Published 9:21 am Wednesday, August 31, 2016

It only took 67 years for Charlotte County resident Elizabeth Layne to make it to her senior prom.

“I’ve danced ever since I was a baby … I’m still dancing, honey,” the 50-year county resident said, sitting in her wheelchair, breaking from spinning around and moving her arms in the air in her orange dress.

The first annual senior prom event, held at PACE’s facility in Farmville, included balloons, tuxedos, food, dancing, music and making new memories for the elderly population across the region.

During the event, facility staff danced with those in the PACE program. Many of the senior citizens — decked out in their best suits and dresses — danced with each other as well.

Layne never had the chance to attend prom while she was in high school; she got married when she was 17 years old.

“I’m going to … it once before I die,” she said of attending prom.

“I love it. It’s the best thing (that) ever happened to me,” the cancer survivor said of Centra PACE, a program of all-inclusive care for the elderly.

She called the program a “Godsend.”

“Just about,” Layne said of dancing to every song played during the Friday morning event. “I’m going to do my best,” she said of dancing to the rest of the songs from her wheelchair.

She kept a smile on her face the entire time she was on the dancefloor, wheeling her chair around the room.

“The idea of the prom came from our amazing recreational therapist, Elise Hemmer,” said Dixie McDowell, Centra PACE’s intake coordinator and social worker. “She worked at a PACE program in Chattanooga, Tenn., and did a prom there, which was a huge success.”

McDowell said the activity “helps seniors by stimulating them mentally, spiritually and physically. “It helped the participants reminisce about their past experiences and make new memories. It also gave their family and caregivers a chance to connect with the seniors in a positive way by helping them plan what they were going to wear and get excited about the festivities.”

PACE participant Madge Wood called the prom “absolutely wonderful.” Senior Edna Howell said it was “exciting and entertaining.”

Though 73-year-old Helen Cupidore hadn’t danced during the senior prom — the first prom she’s ever attended — she said it was good to see her friends dance and have fun.

“It’s beautiful,” she said.”It helps them in a lot of ways … They appreciate it,” she said of the event.

“It was a huge success, phenomenal,” McDowell said. “We saw our participants in a different light. They were able to feel young again, they were able to show a side of them (selves) that we usually don’t see as we often deal with their medical needs.”

McDowell said she and her staff were privileged to work in a program “that cares for the whole person.”

She heard one caregiver say, “‘I never thought I would be dressing my mom for the prom.’”

“‘I never imagined I would be the queen. … This is the best day of my life. I am always going to remember this,’” Layne told McDowell at the end of the prom.