As part of her official role as a member of Manteca Youth Focus, Christina Arcos needed to come up with an advocacy project.
And while she had a general idea about what she wanted to do – something for special needs students and adults in the community – it was an experience that her cousin had that propelled her to act on what has become an annual event that has touched lives throughout San Joaquin County.
The Special Needs Formal was born.
Arcos, the reigning Miss Manteca, decided three years ago that she wanted to organize a prom for special needs high school students and adults in Manteca – motivated by the experiences of cousin Bennie Rodriguez, who has Down Syndrome, and his struggles to feel comfortable participating in a normal high school rite-of-passage.
The Sonoma State University student, who is set to graduate next spring with a degree in liberal studies before embarking on a teaching career, will be returning to Manteca this month for the third annual event that has grown to include special needs adults and high school students from beyond the city she represents – drawing people from Lathrop, Stockton and Tracy so that they too can have the experience that many high school students take for granted.
“I enjoyed doing this so much – it was such a heartwarming experience – that I wanted to continue this beyond just the first year,” Arcos said. “Seeing the young people enjoying their night and having such a good time and thanking you for doing it – it makes me want to continue to do this for a long time.
“I do this for the people who don’t get the same opportunities that everybody else does.”
A 2015 East Union High School graduate who earned two associates degrees from San Joaquin Delta College before transferring to Sonoma State in 2017, Arcos has had to juggle the realities of a full college schedule hours away from the community she represents with the passion to make sure that everything goes off without a hitch.
It hasn’t been the easiest thing to do.
With so many bookings for the Manteca Senior Center in April, Arcos had to move the date back to March 16 – the event begins at 6 p.m. – in order to work with the times that were available. Earlier this month she started a GoFundMe page to raise the $500 necessary to pay for the decorations, the refreshments and the incidentals to make the prom a memorable experience for those that attend, and she spends her free time talking with parents of special needs students and organizations throughout San Joaquin County to try and allow as many people as possible to enjoy the event.
Last year Arcos said she had about 60 people show up, and is hoping that word-of-mouth coupled with opening the event up to people from outside of the area will lead to an even bigger turnout this year.
At the end of the day, she said, it’s all about the smiles on the faces of not just the participants, but also the parents who thought that their child would never have the chance to enjoy the simple experiences that all high school students get to relish in.
She had no idea that she would get the groundswell of support that she has on this journey.
“There was so much community involvement in making this happen – people like Andy Prokop from United Way of San Joaquin who came to our Manteca Youth Focus leadership reception and gave me a $500 scholarship for the event, and parents like Tracy Goatcher that have gone out of their way to help make this possible,” Arcos said. “Businesses like Fagundes Meats and Catering have been wonderful – donating linens and food items – and even people in the community that have heard about it and bring things down to help make it what it is.
“It is definitely a passion project for me, and it’s great to see so many other people supporting this event and helping give these special people the event they deserve.”
Those interested in supporting the event financially can do so by visiting www.gofundme.com/3rd-special-needs-formal. Anyone interested in bringing items that may be useful for the event – food items, snacks, or anything else that could assist the event – are encouraged to stop by the Manteca Senior Center between 3 and 5 p.m. on Saturday, March 16. The Manteca Senior Center is located at 295 Cherry Lane, behind Manteca City Hall.
Any questions about the event can be emailed to Arcos at Christina.firstname.lastname@example.org.
To contact reporter Jason Campbell email email@example.com or call 209.249.3544.