Antoinette Anzalone arrived at the prom in a limo, after her mother and sister had helped with her makeup, hair and nails.
A graduating senior from Kirk School in Palatine, the Mount Prospect student wore a navy gown and capped the look with a tiara set back gently in her soft black curls. Sitting at her table with her classmates, their aides and staff members, Antoinette enjoyed the pasta dinner, but her favorite part came later: dancing.
For more than 30 years, administrators with Kirk School -- which serves children and young adults with disabilities and autism -- have held a dinner dance at the end of the year for their high school students.
In recent years, with the help of corporate and individual benefactors it has evolved into a full-fledged prom.
This year's event took place on Thursday at Atlantis Banquets in Arlington Heights, where owner Alex Lambrou provided the room, food and wait staff at a discounted rate.
Its ballroom and crystal chandeliers greeted students, who were dressed in their fanciest evening wear.
For Courtney Koshgarian, 15, of Prospect Heights, it was her first prom. Though confined to a wheelchair and nonverbal, her mother knew she was looking forward to the big night.
"Her favorite color is purple, so we looked for a dress that was lavender -- and it had to have some sparkle," Gail Koshgarian said, adding that Courtney's older sister, Crystal, had done her hair and makeup.
"She's excited," Gail Koshgarian added. "She loves music."
Kirk School Principal Kim Dungan said students look forward to their prom for months.
"It's the biggest social night of the year," she said. "Our students are just like other students: they want to get dressed up, dance and have fun with their friends."
She conceded that they need some adaptations to do it, including one-on-one staff members or aides to accompany them. They also have sensory equipment on hand for those students who become overstimulated in the glittery surroundings.
"It's a night to celebrate our graduates," Dungan adds. "It's sort of like their final exam. We go over table manners, social skills and communicating with others."
She points to the many vendors who helped to make the night special. They include Jim Harney, owner of Aberdeen's Wedding Flowers in Chicago; Mike Feldman, president of Video Express in Buffalo Grove; and Dana Logsdon of Choice Tunes and Video in Belvidere, who served as DJ.
Photographer Gregory Delijewski of Prospect Heights has a special relationship with Kirk. His son, Lukasz, attended the school and Delijewski looks at his photography as a way to give back. He is a professional photographer for Fred Fox Studios.
"I look for (students') expressions," Delijewski explains. "It's hard in front of the backdrop, but once they start dancing, that's when they show themselves."
Another major benefactor of the evening was the 100 Percent Foundation. Its founder, Frank Davis of Prospect Heights, matches area corporations with nonprofit opportunities.
For the Kirk Prom, he drew the financial support of officials with the Assurance Agency in Schaumburg. They have underwritten the evening for the last seven years and helped to elevate the night from a dinner dance to a full prom.
"This is a night these students might not get otherwise," Davis says. "We want to make the evening special."