Diocesan News

Villa Marie Dance Helps Special Needs Students Succeed Annual Fundraiser to be Held Friday, Jan. 28

Waverly (SNR) - Without a parish to support it, Villa Marie Home & School for Exceptional Children basically has one shot at raising the funds the school needs to continue to serve children with Down Syndrome, autism and a range of other conditions that make learning a challenge.

This singular event is an annual dance at the Play-Mor Ballroom in Lincoln. January 28 will be a fun-filled night featuring the Big Band music of the Bobby Layne Orchestra, alternating with country and rock tunes from the popular band, Sandy Creek – plus several new features.

Sister Peggy Kucera, M.S., who serves as principal and teacher at Villa Marie School explained, "This is our 47th dance. When we first started the dance, it was in the 60s, and a lot more people were going out to dances then…We used to bring in 600 or 700 people."

With some new features, Sister Peggy hopes the fundraiser will become more attractive to more people. Pulled-pork sandwiches and chips will be served to fuel the dancers… and it could be an appeal to folks who don’t care to dance but would like to enjoy a meal as they support the school.

Another addition is a new silent auction. Dave Friesen reported an exciting list of auction items, including a Bison basketball system, iPad, prayer lap quilt, basket filled with Husker items and more.

Of course, the popular raffle will continue between dance sets. This year, the prizes include a pair of tickets to one Nebraska Cornhuskers football game, a $150 gift certificate to the Buckle, a number of $50 gift certificates to Walmart and Target, a $500 saving bond by Molex and other prizes. Tickets are only $1 and winners need not be present to win.

Once again, the dance will borrow decorations used at the annual Day of Reflection for religious sisters hosted by St. Teresa Parish in Lincoln. The theme is Paris, and a large replica of the Eiffel Tower promises to be a great place to pose for photos.

Villa Marie is an important educational opportunity for students who have trouble succeeding in a typical school setting. Working together with parents, Villa Marie staff is able to customize education for each student and help them achieve the best they can be.

"A lot of our former students have jobs. They do get a good work ethic here," Sister Peggy said. "Some are living on their own."

Two recent graduates are continuing their education. One is attending community college for vocational training.

Sister Peggy spoke warmly about one student in particular, who is in her last year at Villa Marie. She was diagnosed with autism at a young age, and communication has always been a challenge for her.

"Her mom thought she would never talk," Sister Peggy said. "Now she’s going out to give talks on autism…. She just completed her 16th talk."

Having watched this student grow over the years, Sister Peggy marvels at how much she has overcome.

"She had trouble just giving classroom presentations," Sister Peggy recalled.

However, this student was a boon to the Villa Marie staff because she once she learned to communicate, she was able to teach her teachers what autism is really like. For example, her teachers knew that transitions were difficult for people who have autism, but they didn’t know how demanding it was.

"Walking from one room to another is a transition for any of us," Sister Peggy said. "But for her, it’s like walking through an electric fence."

Knowing how much she and the rest of the staff have learned from this student, Sister Peggy encouraged the girl to start giving presentations to other educators. The student now believes that speaking about autism is her calling.

"She says, ‘I have to tell people about autism…. This is what God wants me to do,’" Sister Peggy said. "She would do anything for Him."

This student is just one of many who have been able to complete their education and learn valuable life skills thanks to Villa Marie School. It’s one of only two schools in Nebraska that are dedicated to special education. Sister Peggy hopes that more people will find it in their hearts to support this important program.

Proceeds from the dance are currently earmarked for Villa Marie’s general fund as the school staff waits to hear if they will receive a grant to replace the facility’s damaged roof. If the grant doesn’t come through, dance proceeds will help pay for the roofing project.

The school does have regular benefactors, whose generosity is a great blessing to the students and staff. Altar societies from all over the diocese also support the school, and various Knights of Columbus councils have done their part. But more must be done to enable Villa Marie to continue to provide the quality, hands-on, customized education these students need.

All are welcome to attend the dance at the Pla-Mor Ballroom, 6600 West O St., Lincoln, Jan. 28 from 7 to 11 p.m. Tickets are $20 and can be reserved in advance by calling Dave Friesen at 402-488-2040, ext. 2. Raffle tickets are $1 each and are available from any Villa Marie family or from Dave Friesen.

Parents or guardians of special-needs children who would like to learn more about Villa Marie are invited to call the school at 402-786-3625.

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