After a two-year hiatus, the Meelia Center for Community Engagement at Saint Anselm College was thrilled to host its annual Valentine’s Day Dance in-person. For 31 years, the dance has been a special Valentine’s Day tradition for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities from around the state.

Over 140 guests came to the Hilltop on Sat., Feb. 11, to join Saint Anselm students in the Carr Center for an afternoon of music, games, dancing, crafts, and food. Approximately 105 student volunteers created an environment of inclusion and support, but most importantly, fun.

“It was exciting and wonderful to have the dance back in person this year,” says Nicole Lora ‘06, director of the Meelia Center for Community Engagement. “While we were able to hold a smaller dance online during the early years of the pandemic, it just wasn’t the same as bringing everyone together.  Many individuals and families have been coming to the dance for years. It was like welcoming old friends back, while introducing our new students to the magic and joy of this campus tradition.”  

In addition to the music and dancing, Meelia Center volunteers organized several tables of crafts and games. A variety of snacks were provided, and members of the Hawks football team helped distribute pizza. A student DJ kept the party going, with a mix of music that ensured that the dance floor was full.

“Our student leaders work so hard and intentionally to prepare for this awesome event. So many of them have never seen the dance in person but were so excited to create something beautiful and magical for our community members, “says Karina Hernandez, assistant director of student leadership at the Meelia Center. “Their hard work did not go unnoticed, and it was so incredible to welcome our community members back onto campus for a fun-filled day of dancing with our students!”

The afternoon was a mixture of both new faces and old friends. Many of the guests have made the dance an annual tradition and have attended for decades. For instance, it was Mike’s 18th year for the celebration. When asked what he enjoys the most, Mike replied, “The best part of the dance is dancing! And I keep coming back because it is so much fun.” 

Cynthia, Mike’s mother, commented that he loves to hang out with the college kids. “Mike is very social and loves music. To meet these students and to dance with college girls is a big thing. I will be pulling teeth to get him to go home.”

Another parent, Gerry, explained how deeply their family was connected to Saint Anselm College. His daughter Noel has attended dances for almost 20 years. “Noel considers Saint A’s her alma mater. This has been her college experience.” The opportunity for her to reconnect each year with her college buddies has been a great source of joy for her entire family.

“The Valentine’s Day Dance has been generating love and fellowship between the campus and community for nearly 30 years,” says Dan Forbes ’81, founder of the Meelia Center. “The guests look forward to it all year and the students never disappoint. That it was conceived by three freshmen women and is still managed by Meelia student leaders just adds to the magic.”

Plans are already in the works for the 32nd Annual Valentine’s Day Dance in February 2024. “We are so grateful for the guests who continue to come to the dance and for the students who continue to organize it, both make the dance possible,” says Lora. The student volunteers at Meelia Center make this dance memorable every year and they are always looking for more helping hands. If you would like to become involved, please stop by the Meelia Center offices in the Jean Student Center for more information.