Be Our Guest | The Story of Joy Prom

There is one magical night every year where individuals with all different abilities are able to come together and enjoy one of the most special nights of the year: prom night.


Joy Prom Winston-Salem is a full-scale, annual prom for the special needs individuals in our community, welcoming guests ages 16+ with any physical, developmental, or intellectual "different” ability. It’s a night where differences are celebrated and everyone gets the opportunity to dress up and go out for an evening full of singing and dancing.

And it all started with two couples asking a simple question: “why not?”


Donna Zayas had been driving to Concord, North Carolina for her son to participate in its Joy Prom. It was a good alternative to his high school’s prom: sensory friendly, full of individuals that had similar experiences. He enjoyed it so much that Donna started to consider what it would be like to have the same event in Winston Salem.


“I just saw people living out the Love of Christ,” Zayas said. “It was so powerful to watch so many people be celebrated.”


One night Donna, her husband, and two of their friends sat down and started to talk about the impact Joy Prom could have on our local community. Through encouraging words and deep conversation, the couples arrived at the question “why not?”, and couldn’t find an answer. From that conversation, Zayas knew there was no going back; she had to bring this opportunity to her city.

Inspired by that conversation with friends, Zayas got in contact with her pastor at Reynolda Church and formed her core team. Love Out Loud was excited to stand by Zayas’ side and help connect her with a community eager to turn her vision into a reality. By 2015, less than a year after that conversation took place, Zayas and her team hosted Winston Salem’s first Joy Prom at First Assembly Christian School.


Coming up this April 13, Joy Prom will celebrate its 4th year with the theme “Be Our Guest”. The amount of guests and community involvement has doubled in size since the prom began, with over 280 guests registered and over 400 community members signed up as volunteers.

There are a full spectrum of disabilities that are accommodated for at this event. Sign language interpreters will be available on sight for individuals who are non-verbal. Every area of the prom is wheelchair accessible. For individuals who are sensitive to sound, there is a designated quiet space. Volunteers are also trained to understand how different disabilities affect different individuals and how to best accommodate them ahead of time.

It’s a special opportunity for individuals with autism, down syndrome, physical disabilities, traumatic brain injuries to step out of their comfort zone in an area that is welcoming and accommodating for everyone. Guests enjoy a red carpet entrance, a "Glitz and Glamour" room, food, dancing, photo booths, Bingo, a craft, themed decorations and more. A Hospitality Suite is available for parents and caretakers that wish to join in the fun as well.

If you want to be a part of Joy Prom, we are still looking for male volunteers (and others!!) to escort the wonderful guests that have registered to attend prom. To volunteer, attend, or learn more, please visit their website at

This blog written by Molly Flinchum, Love Out Loud in March 2018 - if you have any questions please email