Sometimes a picture doesn’t do a moment justice. The moment is too big, too amazing, too special. The picture may show smiles and happy faces but what the picture doesn’t tell is the love and kindness that has created the smiles and happy faces. The picture doesn’t show the hearts touched and the people changed. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but memories and moments are priceless.
Last week I had the pleasure of volunteering at the 9th Annual Sacramento “Evening of Dreams”, a prom for special-needs students. It is—by far—my favorite night of the year. It’s my adult version of Christmas. I get so excited the night before with anticipation of seeing the young people all dressed up, watching the dates and guests get matched up and walk the red-carpet hand in hand, and seeing the complete joy that fills up the room that night. It’s elation on steroids.
The concept is simple: teenage and young adult athletes volunteer to be dates for special-needs students at a prom. The planning is detailed and specific to be sure all needs and issues are addressed and prepared for. And the execution is flawless because the volunteers feel honored and lucky to be a part of the night. Everyone works together for the same cause which is to make sure the special-needs guests feel important, valued, and included in all the wonderful moments the night brings. Differences and disabilities are celebrated and yet, no one feels different that night and everyone is embraced. What a concept– imagine if that was lived out in our daily lives?
Going to Prom is a life memory and milestone. After 30 years, I can still remember the red satin dress I wore for my Jr Prom. I had red shoes and a clutch purse dyed to match (we did that back in the day). I can recall where we went to dinner, who was in my group and who won Prom King and Queen (John and Pam… and they are still married!). It’s a moment and a memory everyone should have but sadly that is not the case.
Special-needs students often miss the prom. They miss dressing up all snazzy, taking pictures, dancing until your feet hurt and making memories that last a lifetime. They miss the laughter, the conga line, and the dance battles. They miss the silliness, the specialness, and the sentiment. They miss the life memory and the milestone.
“Evening of Dreams” changes that.
It’s a night of wonder and delight. It’s a night of barriers being broken, and real friendships being made. It’s a night where teenagers stop being concerned with status and social media and turn their efforts and energy towards meeting the needs of another person. It’s a night of connection and compassion. It’s a night of letting go of fears and embracing the moment. It’s a night where all people involved shine, but the special-needs guests are the rock stars of the night and boy do they shine.
One thing I hear most from the dates is “This night is better than my own Jr/Sr Prom”. This year I started asking why? The answers I received were simple and straightforward: “No one is judging anyone. There are no cliques. Everyone is happy to be there. No one is sneaking stuff in that they shouldn’t. Everyone just wants to have fun. No one feels left out. There are so many hugs and high fives all night. No one complained all night. I laughed all night. People were just nice”. It’s amazing how sometimes being removed from what feels usual and normal opens our eyes to all that we have been missing.
To the athletes that volunteered as dates, I applaud your willingness to step outside yourself and do for someone else. I hope you take the valuable lessons learned and live them every day. Treat everyone like they matter and practice kindness, especially to those who might seem different. A simple high five, handshake or hug can change someone’s day completely. Be willing to step up and do the right thing, even if your friends are not.
To the volunteers who helped that night—especially the fierce and fearless leader Michelle Raby, I appreciate your efforts and energy you put towards making the night run smoothly. Without each of you, the night would not have seemed as easy and effortless to all our guests. Whether you were checking people in, matching the dates, serving the food, driving the limos or cars, doing the hair and makeup, taking the pictures, cheering on the red carpet, or helping to clean up you made a difference. At the end of the day (and at the end of our life), that is what matters most.
To the parents of the special needs guests, thank you for trusting your precious children with us. We celebrate them, we honor them, we acknowledge them, we cherish them, and we love them. They are angels on earth and we are blessed you shared them with us that evening.
To the special-needs guests, I say thank you for teaching me so much in one night. Thank you for making me laugh, making me cry and making me remember what life is all about. Thank you for letting me take pictures of you and your date dancing or singing, and for letting me share in your excitement. Thank you for wearing your emotions on your sleeves and expressing joy as you felt it. Thank you for being better dancers than I am and for being so fun. Thank you for living in the moment and reminding me to do the same. Thank you for teaching us to let go of disabilities and to hold strongly to capabilities and possibilities. This night was all about you and each of you is amazing.
Life is about so much more than ourselves. It is about giving to others, being aware of how we treat people and making a difference. These messages often get lost in our day to day to life. Thank heavens for Evening of Dreams. It’s a night that echoes in my heart and I’m reminded that no act of kindness, whether big or small, is ever wasted. All lives matter. Yours. Mine. Ours.