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Outside the Florence building in downtown Missoula Saturday night, three dads climbed out the side door of a Hummer limo. Tod Johnson, Jeff Hasskamp and Fred Van De Perre then took turns holding up their hands to help their daughters step out, too.

The girls were dressed in sparkling evening gowns, like they were going to prom. In fact, they were out for a night with their dads, which included a dinner at Red Bird before heading to the YMCA Sweetheart Dance.

The dance is a night for girls and their father figures to spend a night together and have fun. There’s a DJ, a professional photographer, a chocolate fountain, and flower corsages for every girl.

“You can always have special times with your daughter, but this is like the official special time,” said Van De Perre, who went to the dance with his 13-year-old daughter Melody. “And I think if fathers aren't doing this they're missing out on a big opportunity for their kids and for themselves.

“It’s for them, but it becomes for us,” he said.

Hasskamp agreed: “I feel like this year’s for me.”

The dads decided to go all out this year, with the limo and nice dinner, because some of their daughters are growing up, they said.

Abby Johnson, 12, said she likes the dancing. Her sister Libby, 10, said she likes the raffle.

The Sweetheart Dance is an annual YMCA event that has been going on for about 10 years, said Heather Foster, the event’s coordinator and interim executive director at the Y. Last year, they had to move it into the bigger gym, because it has become so popular.

Foster said they anticipated about 500 people would show up. In the gym, a tent covered the dance floor, and girls of all ages danced with their fathers and father figures. Some dads spun their daughters around, and others jumped up and down beside them.

“It’s one of my favorite events,” Foster said. “It’s adorable. I call it little girl prom.” 

The dance also serves as a fundraiser for the YMCA’s childcare center. Tickets cost $40 at the door, or less for families who use the childcare services.

The Annual Support Campaign also recently began, which is the organization’s biggest fundraiser. It's looking to raise $300,000 for financial assistance for low-income families. The Y gives away more than it ever raises, but the fundraiser certainly helps, Foster said.

“We made a promise 50 years ago that we would never turn anyone away for their inability to pay for our services,” Foster said. “This is how we keep that promise.”

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