PRINCETON: Dances provide those with special needs a much-needed chance to socialize

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Special needs teens and young adults attended a dance at the Community Park Pool on June 3.

By Philip Sean Curran, Staff Writer
The crowd started filing into Community Park Pool Friday night for a dance, an informal get-together for a segment of the community often put at the margins of society.
This was an evening for teens and adults living with special needs, from the 60 to 65 or so people expected right down to the DJ turning the music.
Once a month from September to June, Princeton Special Sports, an organization founded in 2001 to provide youth baseball to special needs kids, works with the Princeton Recreation Department to have a dance for people ages 13 and up from Princeton and surrounding communities. The evenings provide them a structured opportunity to hang out, said Deborah Martin-Norcross, a founder of PSS.
“It’s really a social interaction,” said Ms. Martin-Norcross, as Jimmy Buffet’s “Margaritaville” played in the distance. “One of the things that you’ll notice about people with special needs is that, especially for the young adult population, there’s not a lot of opportunity for them to socialize.”
To fill that void, PSS started holding dances in 2008; the organization does 10 dances a year at different venues in Princeton, including a formal dance or “prom” in May.
“It has a theme, it’s fancy, they get dressed up. It’s fabulous,” she said.
Hana Oresky’s 20-year-old son, Benjamin, who lives with Kabuki syndrome, was one of the people at last week’s dance, the final one until September rolls around. When he was 13, his mother got him involved in baseball through PSS.
“We just loved the program,” said Ms. Oresky, now a board member of the organization.
During the night, the teens and adults with special needs will mingle with high school students, called “buddies” who interact and dance with them. “I think that both groups get a benefit of it,” Ms. Oresky said.
Talia Fiester, a freshman at Princeton High School, has been involved with PSS since she was in the sixth grade. In that time, she has come to know the special needs kids and make friendships.
“The people here have so much to offer,” she said. “They’re so insightful. They have a voice and no one actually lets them say anything. They are labeled special needs, but what makes them special is everything that they have to offer.”
Dan Knox is the father of Steven, a 24-year-old with cerebral palsy; he has been DJing since he was a teen, and does all the PSS dances. There is a source of paternal pride for Mr. Knox in seeing his son have a skill that people love him for, this from a young man who weighed a pound and a half at birth.
“He loves it,” Mr. Knox said as Steven was providing the music Friday night. “I’m not sure if he gets more out of it or me, because I’m watching him do something that some of these other kids can’t do. They love him doing it because he can do it.”