The idea may not have been Gold Award quality for the Girl Scouts, but it certainly was a golden opportunity that hit gold medal status for a group of mentally and physically disabled young adults.
Participants at The Gateway to Independence, a place for young adults with disabilities to come together to work toward independence through social activities and vocational training, were treated to a Winter Wonderland Dance on Friday night, Jan. 7, at First United Methodist Church.
The organizer? Hannah Rials, a 15-year-old Maryville High School freshman.
Hannah, daughter of Tim and Becky Rials, has been a Girl Scout since she was in kindergarten, working her way up from being a Daisy to her current status as a Senior Scout.
“Originally I was going to do this for my Gold Award for Girl Scouts,” said Hannah, “but we learned the project wasn’t worldly enough, because the projects are supposed to affect the world in some way. I guess by their standards, it wasn’t applicable for the Gold Award. But it was such a good thing that I wanted to put it together anyway.”
She got the idea for the dance from her grandmother, Mattie Rials, in McComb, Miss.
Hannah said her grandmother works with disabled people. “She has a Sunday School group and used to have a handbell choir and does story hours for the disabled monthly,” said Hannah. “Their group ranges from people who are blind to mental disabilities. They have every kind of disability, and I always felt comfortable with them.”
The Maryville High School freshman said her grandmother gave her the idea after a Girl Scout troop organized a dance for a group of disabled people in Mississippi. “I thought it would be neat here,” Hannah said.
Hannah said she spoke with Christy Walsh, executive director of The Gateway to Independence, and Walsh liked the idea. “We thought it would be fun for them to have a dance since they don’t get to get out like we do,” Hannah said.
Hannah said that these adults have a range of disabilities and without The Gateway to Independence they wouldn’t have a place to go and spend time during the day.
“Once they are out of high school, they are at home with their parents if they’re not at the Gate, and they have no independence, which is why the Gate is such great foundation,” Hannah said. “It gives parents a break and give the kids a chance to socialize and have more social experiences.”
Hannah said 14 members from The Gate attended the dance, along with 12 parents and 17 of her friends who volunteered to help.
As a special treat, Hannah’s parents flew her grandmother in for the event at First United Methodist Church of Maryville, but didn’t tell Hannah about the surprise visitor.
“They sent me to the kitchen at church, and she was sitting there,” Hannah said. “It was a nice surprise.”
Hannah said a couple weeks after the event, she got a letter from The Gateway to Independence and inside were individual “Thank you” letters from all the participants. “It made me feel good. I also am so happy with the volunteers who helped, too. They were mature and caring enough to handle putting on this dance,” she said.
Hannah said The $10 club, a group of Blount County women who support children’s projects, donated $500 to the dance for decorations and food. Food was also donated by Chick-fil-A and Bella Roma Pizza. Adriel McCord was DJ, Target donated decorations and Flowers and Such donated roses to give to participants when they entered the dance. “Amelia Walker is a family friend who is a really good chef. She cooked for the adults who wanted something more than party food,” Hannah said. “Jessica Kemmer took prom photos for the guests in front of a mural. Our family friend Kristie Stephens helped her pick out décor and create a design for the dance.”
Hannah’s mother, Becky, said Hannah’s eagerness to do this project didn’t really surprise her. “She is a very compassionate person, and she has helped other organizations like Junior Service League and Family Promise. I am very proud of her.”
The entire project was quite an undertaking for a 15-year-old, said Hannah’s dad, Tim Rials.
“Hannah has a knack for focusing and organization, and she can stay focused and intent on her goals,” said Tim Rials. “It was a pretty sizeable project for a teenager, and she did a great job with it. It really was a great evening. I couldn’t be more proud of her.”