Michael Ruokis, 29, and Nichelle St. Jean, 28, both from Brockton enjoy themselves on the dance floor during the semi-formal prom for special needs students, hosted by the Knights of Columbus in Pembroke in April. Patriot Ledger photo/ Jeff Loughlin
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PHOENIX, AZ -- Richard Cardinal Cushing Council 6267 in Pembroke received the 2009 Community Activities Award at the Knights of Columbus Supreme Convention Aug. 5, the Knights’ top honors for community-related activities.
The Knights of Columbus has long been associated with efforts to support people with intellectual disabilities and special needs. Last year, Grand Knight Kevin McKenna and his brother Knights in Council 6267 organized a prom for special needs students in and around Pembroke. They also received assistance from five other local councils, a Fourth Degree assembly, and the Massachusetts State Council.
McKenna is the father of three special needs children, and was moved to propose the project after an incident at a school dance involving his autistic 10-year-old daughter, Tori. In all, 125 members of Cardinal Cushing Council, as well as many additional volunteers from the community, devoted more than 3,500 hours to organizing the dance.
They arranged for free prom dresses and tuxedoes for those who could not afford them, obtained donations of invitations, decorations and gifts for the attendees. A local Knight served as the DJ, and another Knight volunteered to take photographs of all the prom-goers. Volunteers from the local high school and the Rotary Club also donated many hours to make the event a success.
Most of the 75 special needs students attend the Cardinal Cushing Center in Hanover, but other area special needs children were warmly welcomed.
McKenna said that the Special Needs Prom is, “the most enjoyable time [he has] ever had as a member of the Knights of Columbus,” and not only did he help organize a 2009 prom at his home council, he also helped another council organize one of its own.
The Knights of Columbus is an international lay Catholic organization with 1.75 million members who belong to more than 13,000 local councils. It annually recognizes councils for outstanding program activities in five categories: church, community, council, family and youth.