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Nonprofit preps for Derry prom, continues goal of helping those with special needs

March 18, 2018 GMT

Lauren Bergman of West Newton was feeling special Sunday afternoon at St. Paul United Methodist Church in Youngwood, where she tried on prom dresses, intent on finding the right one for an upcoming dance.

She and date David Ruffner, 58, of Adamsburg will attend the special prom at St. Mary’s Dome in Derry Township on April 21.

Bergman, 32, found a purple gown she wanted. Ruffner picked a spiffy coat with tails, a white shirt and pants. The Celebration of Life provided gently used gowns and men’s clothes for close to 60 people with special needs, said Tina Rusiski of Greensburg, president and founder of the nonprofit organization.

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″(Celebration of Life prom) is the event of the year. The girls look forward to this. We’ve been going for years,” said Laura Rosiek, of Lowber, who takes care of a special needs woman in her Sewickley Township residence.

Gabby Gaborini, 54, of the Kiski Valley Opportunities Unlimited in Vandergrift considered several gowns before selecting one. Gaborini said she has gone to at least four Celebration of Life proms and has had a good time.

“They dance, party and eat food. They see people they haven’t seen in a year,” said Christina Keitzer, a program worker at Opportunities Unlimited, a residential facility for those with special needs.

The Celebration of Life raises money to provide adults with developmental and physical disabilities a place to work and live. It has hosted a special prom for seven years.

“It’s just grown, and grown and grown,” Rusiski said.

She said she has about 300 gowns stored at the church. They’ve been collected from volunteers, girlfriends of her three sons, college sororities and generous donors. Several gowns were stored in bins, others hung in a storage room and more were spread across pews in an upstairs chapel, making it easier for the women to see what was available.

The gowns were distributed for free Sunday and will be available again March 17-18 to other women of special needs. Gowns also are sold at discount prices to people who can afford them, as part of an ongoing fundraising effort, Rusiski said.

Her organization is working to raise $150,000 for a greenhouse pilot project. Other planned ventures include a fishery, a pet resort and grooming salon, a wood workshop and an estate sale operation. All five social enterprises could cost an estimated $5 million to $8 million to fully implement.

Joe Napsha is aTribune-Review staff writer.