Orchards host ‘senior’ prom

CHESTER – On Thursday, surrounded by the regalia of prom night, Joe Hughes couldn’t help but remember the date he took to the East Liverpool High School senior prom 62 years ago.

“She was a red-haired girl from the Klondike district of East Liverpool. Well-built. Pretty. Face full of freckles,” he said. “We had a lot of fun.”

Asked if he remembers the theme or the music or the decorations from that night in 1951, Hughes said, “When you’ve got a girl like that, you don’t look much at the scenery.”

Thursday night, Hughes found himself at another kind of senior prom – this time sitting in a wheelchair at The Orchards at Foxcrest, in Chester, where he has been recovering from a fall for the last four months.

Hughes was one of dozens of nursing home residents who enjoyed “A Night of Romance” courtesy of a group of nursing assistant students from the John D. Rockefeller IV Career Center in Hancock County.

Residents, many of them dressed in their prom finery, lined up to have their pictures taken, enjoyed a meal served by the students, listened to Glenn Miller tunes and elected a prom king and queen – Sayre Graham and Virginia Ross – before the night was through. Women wore corsages and fancy dresses; men wore top hats and suits. Several married couples were in attendance.

“They’ve been looking forward to it for weeks,” said Joan Murray, teacher of health science technology education at the Career Center. “The families were invited, and some of them even bought gowns for the occasion.”

Murray said the idea for a prom night at The Orchards at Foxcrest came to her students last year as they were finishing up their clinicals at the nursing home.

“It was right around the time of our (Oak Glen High School) prom,” said senior Margo Jones, 17, “so we thought, ‘Why not do a prom for the residents? Let’s just do something special for them.’ “

At the start of the 2012-13 school year, the nursing assistant students began planning and fundraising for the second annual prom event, raising $1,500 through candy bar sales.

“They’re great kids,” Murray said. “They get very attached to these people, and they show such compassion for them.”

With the money they raised, the 14 nursing assistant seniors developed a prom night theme, bought the decorations and table centerpieces, and ordered a cake, Murray said. The nursing home supplied the disc jockey and the hors d’oeuvres.

Career Center students served as escorts and served food most of the night. Some of them got choked up as they watched the residents – many of whom they have spent hours with – enjoy themselves.

“I love working with the residents. I feel such an attachment to them,” said Jones, who is testing for her state certification on Saturday. “It’s a very good facility. The staff is very welcoming.”

Jones said she especially enjoyed talking to the residents about their prom memories.

“They love to tell stories about when they went out dancing. I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve heard,” she said.

Jones, like the other seniors, finished 55 hours of clinicals at the nursing home last week. Five students already have been hired as certified nursing assistants, meaning they’ll likely return to help with next year’s prom, Murray said.

(Huba can be contacted at shuba@reviewonline.com)