March 15, 2013

Dinner dance unites families, friends with special needs

Justin Graves has fun during the 13th annual SPRED dinner dance at the Marten House Hotel and Conference Center in Indianapolis on March 2. This year’s theme for the event was “All Aboard the Love Boat.” (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

Justin Graves has fun during the 13th annual SPRED dinner dance at the Marten House Hotel and Conference Center in Indianapolis on March 2. This year’s theme for the event was “All Aboard the Love Boat.” (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

By Natalie Hoefer

As the music blared, Justin Graves pumped his first in the air. He swung his head like an ‘80s “hair band” member. He played air guitar, did the Macarena and the Electric Slide.

If energy were mercury, the thermometer would have been shattered.

One never would have expected such enthusiastic dancing of Graves who, when asked if he planned to dance that night at the Special Religious Development (SPRED) dinner dance, quietly answered, “Yes.”

A member of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis, Graves was one of the many enthusiastic participants at the 13th annual SPRED dinner dance held on March 2 at the Marten House Hotel and Conference Center in Indianapolis.

The theme of this year’s event was “All Aboard the Love Boat.” Leaders dressed as ship crew members, attendees received sailor hats or flowers for their hair, and a ship setting was created as a prop for photographs.

“The number one goal tonight is to celebrate with our friends and just have a good time,” said Stephanie Pierce, SPRED catechist at St. Malachy Parish in Brownsburg and co-chair of the event. “We hope to raise some funds, but the most important part is to celebrate.”

To raise funds, the event included a silent auction and raffle.

SPRED, a ministry of the archdiocese’s Office of Catholic Education (OCE), ministers to children and adults with developmental disabilities. It has been active in the archdiocese for 17 years. Groups now meet in more than 14 parishes with more than 100 participants—called friends—and more than 100 volunteers.

OCE has a three-pronged approach to catechizing Catholics with special needs, according to Ken Ogorek, archdiocesan director of catechesis.

“We seek to raise awareness of disabilities. We try to help religious education programs with inclusive techniques and strategies for kids who are perfectly capable of joining typical religious education sessions with a little help,” he said. “And we develop specialized approaches for catechesis, like SPRED.”

Ogorek spoke briefly at the event. He started by reading a message from Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin, who was unable to attend the event.

“St. Alphonsus Ligouri had a heart for outreach for all those in need of physical and spiritual assistance. As a leader of the religious order that St. Alphonsus founded, the Redemptorists, and now as your chief shepherd and catechist, I place a high priority on serving people with special needs through the ministry of our local Church. SPRED’s pivotal role in catechesis for people with disabilities makes your support very important. I plan to attend a SPRED event as soon as my schedule permits.”

After sharing the archbishop’s message, Ogorek also shared the positive growth that SPRED experienced in the past year. A children’s group started at St. Ambrose Parish in Seymour, a group for young adults is beginning at St. Monica Parish in Indianapolis, and a new adult group was added at St. Meinrad Parish in St. Meinrad (see related story).

SPRED participants are divided into four age groups: children, ages 6-10; youth, ages 11-16; young adults, ages 17-21; and adults, ages 22 and older.

Terry and Kathy Huser own Huser HomeCare and Huser Special Care and are members of St. Matthew Parish in Indianapolis. They attended the event with some of their own special needs children, as well as three of their clients who are active in the SPRED program at St. Mark the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis.

“This is a very underserved population, and the fact that the Church is working with kids and adults with special needs—it’s a great opportunity,” Terry said.

Megan Varnau agrees. “I think SPRED is very interesting. I have a lot of friends there.” Varnau is a SPRED participant at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Indianapolis. She attended the event with her parents, Ann and Mark.

On the dance floor, a young man who is a SPRED participant gently took the palsied hand of a woman in a wheelchair. He held her hand through an entire song, grinning and moving it in time to the music. The smile and joy on the woman’s face was every bit as exuberant at Graves’ dancing antics.

“They teach us ever so much more than we could give back,” said SPRED volunteer Susan Robinson of St. Monica Parish in Indianapolis. “It’s a real blessing to be involved with them.”

(For more information on SPRED, log on to


Related story: SPRED participants live out their faith during Mass at St. Meinrad Parish

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