Helena High School students Treven Maharg and Tanner Davis have been friends throughout high school. It's apparent from their constant teasing that they are close. Nearly every aspect of their friendship is typical of high school boys.
The only difference is that Davis lives with Down syndrome. Being so close to Davis, Maharg has a sensitivity to those with special needs. So when he started a prom for people with special needs, it wasn't out of character.
"Being friends with Tanner, I can relate more than others," Maharg said. "Sure, Tanner goes to prom, but there are lots of others who don't so I thought it would be nice (to start a special needs prom)."
The idea came to Maharg when his mom introduced him to professional athlete Tim Tebow's Night to Shine. Originally, Maharg wanted to get officially involved with the organization but found that many of their requirements were unrealistic for a small area like Helena. Limousines and background checks on every single volunteer were things Maharg and Our Redeemer's Lutheran Church just couldn't undertake.
"But I liked the idea, so I took it and tuned it to our own Helena scale," Maharg said. He dubbed the event Night with the Stars, where every participant gets a crown, tiara, boutonniere or corsage. "They are all kings and queens," Maharg said.
Last year was the first for Night with the Stars, and it was a massive success. There were many logistics for the committee to figure out for the initial event.
"We wanted it to be simple and successful," said Jackie Bartz, committee member. "This year we focused on improvements."
Bartz said they hoped for 50 people to show up. They had more than 120.
"We even had a group from Butte that showed up in a bus," Maharg said. "They didn't RSVP or anything, but asked if they could come. We were like, 'yeah.'"
Maharg got his church involved early in the process. Our Redeemer's large multi-purpose room is the perfect prom setting. It's a neutral location and the space is donated.
"I worked in Helena High's special education department," Bartz said. "So I definitely have a heart for people with special needs."
Bartz and the church were immediately on board. She believes that it's important to make people with special needs feel like a part of society, because they are an important part of it.
"With this, it's a great way to make them feel special and give them a special night," Bartz said. "Make them feel like the are part of the community and just give them a really fun night."
This year's prom, which takes place Saturday, has already had somewhere between 95 and 100 RSVPs. Improvements this year include a photo booth, glasses adjustments/cleanings and hand massages.
"It was a lot more work last year trying to figure everything out," Maharg said. "This year has been much easier since the groundwork was already laid."
Maharg is hoping that this year's prom goes even better than last.
Davis, on the other hand, said his goal is to make sure there is better music. His primary role on the committee is to ensure the snacks and music are high quality.
The prom is open to anyone 16 years and older and is not school affiliated. In fact, many of the event's attendees are adults who live in group homes. Maharg said many were people who never got a prom experience. It's sponsored by local businesses, including West Mont Flower and Trading Co. and D&D RV Center.
Maharg and Davis will both graduate this year, leaving the prom in the hands of others. Maharg's brother, Dylan, and friend Ryan Quinn will be taking over next year. The elder Maharg said he is confident with it in their hands.
However, he does hope Night with the Stars will expand to other communities.