As I stood inside the RV Hall of Fame on Friday, April 20, for the ADEC Ball, I was overcome with appreciation for our community as hundreds of others joined me in cheering for the people we serve as they strutted down the red carpet with big grins on their face. Seeing so many friends out to support individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities was a reminder of what a strong foundation ADEC’s founding families created more than 65 years ago.

The brave families who founded ADEC back in 1952 did so with a big dream: They wanted to see their children with disabilities included and embraced by the community. If they could have seen the magic that happened at the ADEC Ball, they would have known that dream has come true in Elkhart County.

The ADEC Ball started as an idea to give the people we serve a night to feel like royalty and spend time with “buddies” from the community, but it flowered into something much bigger. Local businesses and individuals volunteered their time, products and services to make sure the ADEC Ball was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the nearly 100 individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities who attended.

Planning for the event started more than a year ago as Thor Industries, another organization with a legacy in Elkhart County and a motto we love (“go your own way”), stepped up as a presenting sponsor for the ADEC Ball. Since then, we have been overwhelmed by the amount of support we have received from our community, including sponsorships from Beacon Health System, the Community Foundation of Elkhart County and Robert Weed Plywood.

When we put a call-out on Facebook asking for dress donations so our ladies would have beautiful gowns to wear to the ADEC Ball, we received hundreds of formal dresses (for months, our offices served as dress storage and fitting rooms). One bridal salon, Simply Yours of Granger, donated nearly $50,000 in brand new gowns.

When we asked for Fairy Godparents to help with dress alterations, hair and makeup, dozens of professionals from across Michiana volunteered their services to help the ladies of ADEC feel beautiful at the Ball. South Bend Seamstress took on the huge task of altering more than 20 of those dresses. As professional hairstylists and makeup artists held up mirrors for our ladies to see their transformation, the smiles on their face said it all: They felt like royalty, and the night was only beginning.

ADEC employees were rock stars from the very beginning, helping the people we serve prepare for the ADEC Ball and volunteering that evening to make sure the event ran smoothly.

At 4:30 p.m. on April 20, a fleet of limos from Epic Limos pulled up in front of ADEC in Bristol to kick off the party. Nearly 80 individuals got to experience their first limo ride from ADEC to the RV Hall of Fame. “Whew, we’re first class now, boys,” exclaimed Fred Klemm as he sat in the limo with a big grin on his face.

When the limos pulled up at the event center, the people we serve stepped out onto the red carpet and were greeted by crowds of screaming fans with signs reading things like “you’re awesome” and “you look beautiful.” Many of the fans came from Lippert Components and the NorthWood High School Key Club.

Local law enforcement also showed up — because after all, celebrities need bodyguards! Cpt. Brent Long of the Elkhart Police Department worked with officers from Elkhart, Goshen Police Department and the Elkhart County Sheriff’s Department to show support for ADEC and the people we serve.

Deb Gilbert, after seeing the blue uniforms, talked with her buddy over dinner about how much she wanted to dance with a cop at the Ball. Her buddy, retired teacher and principal Fran Fitzgerald, happened to know a few of the police officers attending — and sure enough, before the night was over, Deb got to slow dance with a police officer in uniform.

Event vendors from all over the region and the country offered to help make the ADEC Ball come to life with discounts or donations of their products.

Navarre Hospitality Group provided a delicious sit-down meal for the people we serve and their buddies in addition to small plates and salads for the general public. Hope Incorporated, a local family foundation, sponsored one of the most popular areas of the evening: a candy bar featuring 200 lbs. of sweets and treats.

Millinova Music and DJ Services helped make sure the dance floor was hopping all night long. DJ Brent Millen commented that the ADEC Ball put most weddings to shame. Of course, we weren’t surprised because we know the people we serve love to dance.

With some help, the RV Hall of Fame was transformed into a park-like setting. Elkhart Central High School allowed us to borrow their three-tiered water feature to greet attendees at the entrance, and our neighbors at Camille’s Floral Shop put together jaw-dropping arrangements that hung above the dance floor. John Shoup, artistic and technical director at the Elkhart Civic Theatre, worked with his wife, Penny, to create fun props throughout the venue, including a lit city skyline at the entrance and food trucks lining the wall.

Although we did not land our celebrity guest we were hoping for, we were still in the presence of a celebrity tree. Bright Baum, a company based in New York City that sells handmade life-size artificial LED trees, let us borrow their beautiful cherry blossom for the evening. Bright Baum’s trees have been featured in Paris Hilton’s backyard and in a Jamie Foxx music video.

Burns Rent-Alls donated crystal chandeliers and swanky white lounge furniture, which ended up being a popular location at the ADEC Ball for anyone who needed a break from the dancing and fun. ProShow added a “wow” factor by adding purple up-lighting on the walls of the venue, placing light-up cube tables throughout and draping strands of lights from the ceiling. 

GameON VR Lounge, based in downtown Elkhart, helped us all get our game on at the ADEC Ball. The video gaming destination brought two virtual reality headsets for attendees to experience. Nappanee Parks & Recreation also provided entertainment by allowing us to borrow life-sized Scrabble, KerPlunk, Jenga and bowling.

Eash Sales, located in Shishewana, allowed us to borrow their bright polycarbonate outdoor furniture for the evening. Visitors loved taking a break on the benches and gathering around the tables to play a game of cards with friends.

Lucchese’s Italian Restaurant, Navarre, Sorg Jewelers, Walt Disney World and Joanie Smith contributed items to the silent auction.

Digital Mitchell Event Photography captured photos at the event and videographers from Thor Industries filmed the evening. Watch on our social media and website for those to be posted so you can relive the magic with us.

I would like to sincerely thank everyone involved in making the ADEC Ball a wonderful evening for the people we serve – one that we will never forget. The night — which is still the talk around ADEC – never would have been possible without the support of so many businesses and individuals. I am humbled to be a part of such a generous and passionate community.