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Friday July 3rd, 2015 11:27PM

Suwanee teens throw prom for seniors

By The Associated Press
SUWANEE, Ga. (AP) -- Seventeen-year-old Carson Nevels reaches out her hands and asks Betty Fortier to dance.

"Come on, Miss Betty. Come dance with me," insists Carson, a junior in high school wearing a coral-colored homecoming dress, strappy heels and a big smile.

Fortier, 95, uses a wheelchair and rarely stands up - let alone dance. Still, Carson, one of about 25 teenagers throwing a "Senior Prom" at Noble Village, a senior-living home in Suwanee, won't give up. As the "Cha-Cha Slide" blasts inside a lobby, Carson grabs Fortier's hands and dances in place; Fortier remains seated.

Suddenly Fortier motions to Carson to come closer.

"OK," Fortier says in a whisper. "I want to get up." With the help of Carson and a Noble Village staff member, Fortier rises slowly to her feet - and moves to the left, and moves to the right.

"I can't remember the last time I danced," Fortier said afterward. "But you know, once I got up and started dancing, the steps started coming back to me."

The annual Senior Prom is the brainchild of Analise Kucera, a 17-year-old junior who created an organization two years ago called "BridgeworX." The group is aimed at connecting high schoolers and seniors through fun activities. Analise orchestrates several events throughout the year, including an annual Valentine's Day tea that mixes bingo with a variety of teas and heart-shaped cookies. Analise also spends time at Noble Village, which is only a few miles from her home, every other week with her therapy rabbit, Lola.

Around noon on a recent Sunday, enthusiastic teenagers filed into the lobby at Noble Village and went to work. They moved furniture to create a large dance floor. They hung purple, turquoise and lime green paper lanterns from the ceiling. They set up a disco ball and adorned the open room with balloons.

The girls wore dresses. The boys looked spiffy in suits and ties. Some residents also got dressed up with a few of the women donning white rose corsages.

Eric Holmes, who is 90 and recently moved into an apartment at the senior-living residence, made an appearance in a black suit and bow tie. He charmed a gaggle of girls who formed a circle around him. They chatted about sports (he told them he used to play basketball). The girls asked Holmes about his grandchildren. (He raved about a granddaughter who is an aspiring country singer.) Then they invited him to dance the Macarena. And off they went.

With almost an equal number of young people and older adults, the dance was full of smiles, sweet moments. The high schoolers made sure no one was left out. They danced with residents in wheelchairs and included them in a conga line. They didn't shy away from residents with extremely limited mobility in power-operated wheelchairs; the teenagers held their hands and rocked to the beat.

"I have a soft spot for senior citizens. . They are so appreciative," said Analise, who is Miss Capital City's Outstanding Teen 2014. She wore her sash and crown to the event. "I had a lady come up to me after the Valentine's Day tea who was so touched she was crying."

Analise, who spends months planning the annual event, gets volunteers by asking her friends and getting the word out through group texts such as this one she recently blasted: Please come dressed in prom attire . Be sure to bring your dancing shoes because the senior citizens LOVE to dance!!! I am going to send out another message to each of you instead of including it in a group message and ask you to bring a food item to share. You have no idea how much it means to the senior citizens! They have been asking me about it every time I go to visit them!

Several of the teenagers who participated Sunday didn't know one another, including Jamie Aspinwall, 17, who heard about the event from a Chick-fil-A co-worker.

Jamie beamed in a sparkly mermaid-style dress, the same dress she wore a week earlier to her junior prom.

"I thought it was a good idea to make people happy, and I thought it would be fun for me to get my groove on," she said.

Marie Ward, a 60-year-old resident of Noble Village, lauded the teenagers.

"We love Analise and we love what these are kids are doing," Ward said. "They could be out shopping or at the movies or hanging out with their friends, but they are here. You don't know how happy this makes us."

With the prom winding down about 4 p.m. Sunday, Carson urged Fortier to dance again. Fortier stood up for a moment before needing to sit back in her wheelchair.

"That's OK," Carson said cheerfully. "We can still dance."

She held Fortier's hand and two more girls joined the dance. Forming a circle, they swayed their arms side to side to the song, "Falling in Love With You."

After the song, Carson called for a "group hug."

"This dance today," Fortier said as she started to cry, "makes me feel alive and makes me happy."
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