St. Ernest Mission hosts dance for over 200 special needs friends

PAGELAND — St. Ernest Mission may have a small congregation, but they have big hearts and lofty goals.  
Founded in 1990 as a mission of St. Peter Church in Cheraw, the members of St. Ernest began programs to help their community. One of the most endearing is the St. Patrick’s Day dance for special needs clients held annually for 17 years now.

The dance is a treat for residents of Chesterfield County’s group homes that specialize in the needs of mentally and physically challenged adults, said Frances Turnberg, a parishioner.

When St. Ernest first hosted the dances about 50 people attended, and the parishioners were able to provide food, beverages, music and decorations on their own.

Since then, the dances have grown tremendously in popularity and size with over 200 people enjoying the festivities this year, Turnberg said.

“They really enjoy the dance,” she said. “Some of them get out there and dance the whole night long. They really look forward to this outing all year.”

St. Ernest’s members were thrilled with the success, but with only 19 families listed on their mission roster, they were unable to provide all the goodies by themselves. Turnberg said local businesses stepped in to help, donating much of the food and drinks.

Of course, the parishioners still do the heavy lifting. They decorate the cafeteria at Pageland Elementary School, provide music and chaperones, and contribute toward the food.

“Everybody knows everybody,” Turnberg said. “It’s like an extended family because we’re so small. And I’m really proud of the church because it is so small, and they do such a wonderful job.”