For the fourth year running the Lehigh Valley's only nonscholastic GLBTQA (Gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, questioning, and allies) youth group HAVEN, put on an affordable, successful and stylish prom.About 70 youth from the Valley and all over the Northeast region attended HAVEN's Prizm Prom held at the Unitarian Universalist Church's gym at 425 Center St., Bethlehem.
This year's theme was "Alice in Wonderland" and many youth dressed in character while many others designed and made their own clothes.
Kendra from Belvidere, a high school junior who only discovered HAVEN a few weeks ago, said that HAVEN's prom is a hard act to follow.
"I really loved the prom. My school prom will fail in comparison to this. It's going to be so dull compared to this one. This was just over the roof," Kendra said. According to Kendra, at typical proms, everyone and everything looks mundane, but Prizm Prom is an exception.
"Everyone looked so awesome, really stylish... it was like an inspiration for a clothing design place...because there were so many really good ideas that people had for their clothes," she said. "For me, it was the highlight of the night, just seeing every body's costumes."
Josh, an eleventh-grader from Allentown, and a HAVEN member for five months, thought that the decorations were first rate.
"I had so much fun. The gym looked just amazing and the decorations were just great, a lot of fun. I just loved it," Josh said.
Adult volunteers, sponsors and HAVEN youth worked together on the preparation for five weeks before the event.
This year's elected prom queen Linda Kowalchuk spearheaded the youth side of the decoration making efforts with HAVEN facilitators, who worked closely with Popmart employees Chris Jones and Christi Garton to coordinate the decorations. Popmart, 38 East Broad St., Bethlehem, donated the bulk of materials and considerable time. Kowalchuk thought the outcome of the combined effort successful.
"I thought it came out fantastic," Kowalchuk said. "We worked for four or five weeks ahead of time to get ready... The last two days before prom were crazy, so crazy! Gay men and their time schedule! (Laughs) It's just ridicules."
Adult HAVEN facilitator Jim Convrey, of Easton, thought that the outpouring of support from area residence and businesses is a sign of social change.
"I was struck by the beauty of the decorations," Convrey said, "which highlighted the fact that there were a lot of adults involved who really care about GLBT kids... I was very encouraged by that, things are changing in our society and I'm just happy to be a part of that in some way."
Peter Pellegrino, an educator from Emmaus and HAVEN's co-chair, said that sponsors and donations were a major reason for success because HAVEN, a non-profit organization operating within the UUC church, had a very low budget.
"We had a lot of stuff donated. The food was donated by members of the church, the professional photographer donated his time, and various other things. Material and labor were donated and that's how we were able to get away pretty cheap," Pellegrino said.
For the second year, HAVEN was able to hold the price of a ticket to $10. Attendees could also spend an additional $5 to have a professional photographer take their pictures at cost. Why do it for only $10?
"We want to encourage as many youth as possible to attend, and I think it's difficult for youth to come up with the money," Pellegrino said, "So we try to do it as cheaply as we can and I think we succeeded this year. We actually made a little bit of money for next year."
Kowalchuk, who worked closely with the sponsors, agreed and said that the sponsors and contributors, mostly from the Bethlehem area, made it all possible.
"Thanks to everyone who helped out like Popmart, Elysian Fields Florals, Twisted Tulip, Wired CafÃ&Copy;, Heavenly Hedgehog, the Wildflower CafÃ&Copy;, the DJ's Digital Sound Makers, and everyone who lent a hand; even the people that did advertising and donations, and especially the people who helped decorate. We all worked our butts off. Congratulations to everyone; it was awesome, just awesome." Kowalchuk said.
Pellegrino said this prom and HAVEN is a place where GLBT youth can relax, feel safe and are accepted for who they are.
"HAVEN prom gives the kids a place where they can be themselves and can dress as they choose," Pellegrino said, "I think they have a good time when they can do that, just be themselves."
HAVEN maintains confidentiality and requires youth in attendance to adhere to a strict no drugs or alcohol policy, and it doesn't permit overt displays of affection.
HAVEN's mission, in part, is to provide a safe and welcoming environment whereby resources and support are provided by adult facilitators who act as positive role models.
Josh from Allentown is not unhappy about the close adult supervision.
"I love it here. It's so much fun, we get to just talk. It's really a great place to meet new friends; and people can just come and talk about what they're feeling," Josh said.
HAVEN meets every Wednesday from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Church at 425 Center St., Bethlehem.
"Any youth between 14 and 20 is welcome to come to HAVEN," Pellegrino said, "We are regional; we have kids from all over the Valley. Most of our members are GLBT, but they don't have to be. Friends and allies are also welcome."
Rachel Thompson is a freelance writer.