For the past three years, Valley Achievement Center has provided its clients the chance to experience a school tradition that they may otherwise miss out on.
Valley Achievement is a nonprofit organization that provides services for children and adults with autism and other disabilities. VAC has been servicing the community for over two decades and currently has four locations in Bakersfield.
The Winter Ball is a fairly new tradition at VAC. In its third year, it has a seen growth and has filled a need that has instilled hope and excitement into the community.
“A regular prom isn’t doable for them, either from their disabilities or them not getting invited or feeling like they’d stick out,” said Kurtis Parker, business developer for Valley Achievement Center. “It’s really a time for Valley Achievement Center to hold it for them at no cost to them or their loved ones. We provided all the food, entertainment and the venue. It’s just our way of giving them thanks and showing them we love them – let them have a good time without feeling judged,”
Though the event has already passed, the lasting effect on its participants goes beyond the dance itself.
The Winter Ball represents something more. According to Parker, it gives them a sense of belonging.
“They always feel like they’re different. This event really makes it stand out that everyone who’s there – we’re all the same,” said Parker.
Parker expressed the way this event can at times mean more to the parents than the clients. It’s a different sense of joy seeing their child happy and dancing carefree in an environment that is safe.
Melissa Morgan, mother of 10 year-old Liam, is one of those parents.
“I think it’s very special for them to do this for the kids,” she said. “Typically, kids with autism aren’t able to go to regular-functioning events or dances. For my son, he would get too overstimulated and it’s harder when he’s feeling like nobody understands him. When we go to things like this, it makes him feel special and he gets to run around and be himself with his friends.”
Morgan expressed the love she has for VAC and everything they do for its clients, like accommodating clients’ individual needs at the ball. Liam is gluten-free and they provided him the proper foods.
From taking into account Liam’s dietary needs to Xclusive Salon providing clients with fresh haircuts before the ball, VAC goes above and beyond and heightens the importance of the Winter Ball.
“It shows them that they matter,” said Parker. “That people are looking out for their best interest. That Valley Achievement Center isn’t just a day care. We’re so much more than that.”
VAC hopes to continue to meet the needs of the community. After all, the Winter Ball began as a void some teachers felt needed to be filled.
“The idea came from the teachers that noticed that our students in regular schools weren’t going to proms or formals. So that’s where all this started. Everything with VAC starts from the parents seeing the need somewhere and addressing it to us and call it to action, making it happen,” said Parker. ￼ ￼