Norcross youth Naylea Paez was the Belle of the ball at Central Gwinnett High School’s Safe Trick-Or-Treat event Tuesday night.
Paez, 7, sat on a plush throne-like chair atop foam books and dancing silverware as she was guided around the high school’s track. An LED light illuminated a glass case that housed a bright red rose in it.
It was part of an elaborate “Beauty and the Beast”-themed costume Central Gwinnett students made for Paez, who is a wheelchair-bound special needs student at Oakland Meadow School, as part of the nationwide Magic Wheelchair program.
Paez was dressed up as the character of Belle from the Disney classic.
“She likes the music and the movies and all of that,” said Paez’s mother, Olivia, as she spoke through a translator. “She loves Disney.”
This marked the fifth year that Central Gwinnett students have participated in the Magic Wheelchair program, dressing up wheelchairs of children with disabilities in elaborate costumes to give the kids a special Halloween experience.
The wheelchair costume unveiling is one of the highlights of the Safe Trick-Or-Treat event that the school’s Key Club organizes for local children each year at the school’s football stadium.
Students from the school’s art club and technical theater class design the costume, create the pieces for it and then assemble it.
“She wanted to be Belle so, as usual, we (took) that back to our art students and they came up with some sketch ideas and then our technical theater students and teachers then figured out which design is going to work and how they are going to make it come to life,” Central Gwinnett Fine Arts Academy Coordinator Megan Rose-Houchins said.
“With the theme to this one, she wanted to be Belle so we thought of all of the characters and objects that come to life in ‘Beauty and the Beast.’ That was really the inspiration for everything bursting to life on the (wheelchair) piece.”
Naylea Paez’s wheelchair was hidden within the costume under a purple foam-padded throne chair with gold-painted trim. The throne chair was designed at an angle, as if it was tilting backward, to fit around the wheelchair.
Stacks of books, each made from pieces of foam and sanded and painted to look like books were placed under the front of the chair. There were also large pieces painted to look like gold gilding around the front emanating from a painting of a rose.
Silverware was bundled together and arranged so it appeared as if they were standing up and dancing. Some pieces of silverware were also taped to the edges of bowls to make it look as if they were dancing inside the bowls.
This is the second year in a row that Central Gwinnett students have been asked to come up with a princess-themed Magic Wheelchair concept. Central Gwinnett technical theater teacher Mike Tarver said there were some benefits to this year’s theme being centered around a Disney princess.
“We didn’t have to reinvent the wheel,” he said. “There’s lots of stuff (from the film) that we can pull from creatively. We just told our kids, ‘Hey, she wants to be Beauty and Beast, what have you got?’ “
Paez’s father, Juan Carlos, praised the students for the work they put into the elaborate costume.
“(We) really appreciate how they put time and effort into this because they’ve been preparing for this for months so it was really nice that they were able to do this,” he said, speaking through a translator.
As Paez was pushed around the stadium track by Tarver, the song “Be Our Guest” from the 1991 animated version of the film was played. Her brother, Rafael, was dressed up as The Beast and Central Gwinnett students were dressed as other characters from the film.
The students gathered candy and other treats for Paez at each booth at the trick-or-treat event and placed them in a basket that Rafael carried for his sister.
“It’s very beautiful,” Olivia Paez said of the wheelchair costume. “We appreciate the school for giving us the chance to do this.”