A familiar beat pulses from the Chapel of Hope as the DJ gets the Platinum Party started.
The hallway of the typically quiet Spiritual Life Center comes to life as nearly 20 kids from Cunningham's Gerber School arrive for a monthly celebration that recognizes their achievements in the classroom.
Like any middle school or high school dance, kids stand in small groups waiting to see who will be the first to actually dance. 15 year-old Henry doesn't waste any time. After a quick snack, he jumps on the dance floor and gets the party started!
For Henry, allowing himself to celebrate by dancing is a big step. When he first came to Cunningham a little over a year ago he never hit the dance floor. He stood to the side with his foot tapping to the beat. That one foot wanted to dance but he wouldn't allow it to happen. When asked why he wasn't dancing Henry mumbled, "I haven't done that since 6th grade, it's not my thing."
This month's Platinum Party was a celebration for all the kids. They achieved the highest level on the school's performance program, earning their invitation to the party. But for Henry, this party was an outward sign of something more. His dancing reflects the confidence he has gained while at Cunningham. He has learned to give himself permission to relax and be a kid again for the first time since 6th grade.
* Each month, staff treat kids who meet their academic goals with a celebration. Previously our kids have enjoyed movies and popcorn, a picnic, and a bowling party. Cunningham is able to offer these incentives because of private support from our friends. For that, we all do a happy dance!