Sometimes you have to begin with the end in mind.
Earlier this month, the seventh annual Evening of Dreams took place in Sacramento. This event is a prom for students with special needs, and it is hands-down one of my favorite nights of the year. Last year I wrote about it and apologized for writing another column about it since I had done one the previous year. Many readers wrote to me and told me not to apologize and to please continue to write about it. Readers shared their positive experiences at the dance, and people were grateful to hear about such a special evening for such deserving and wonderful guests. That being said, thank you for allowing me to share another incredible experience.
This year’s theme was Superheroes, and the goal was to make each special-needs guest feel strong, important and invincible. Based on the smiles I saw, the singing I heard, the dancing I watched and the hugs being shared at the end of the night between the guests and their dates, I would say the goal was achieved – and surpassed.
What makes this night magical? What makes it special? What makes it unforgettable? Simply, it is the perfect recipe of kindness, compassion, fun, presence and acceptance. The end result is a masterpiece that highlights the guests with special needs and reminds them that they are to be valued and celebrated.
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The night is busy and eventful. More than 250 guests with special needs showed up to have hair and makeup done, get special attire for the evening and have the time of their lives dancing and singing. A crew of close to 450 volunteers made that happen. From the amazing high school and college students who were dates for the guests, the people who served the food and filled the drinks, the ones who drive the special cars and limos so each guests gets celebrated as they walk the red carpet, the DJ who played the jamming music, the ones working registration and date pairing, and those who acted as paparazzi and cheered on every last guest as they entered the dance.
Michelle Raby, Evening of Dreams founder and director, put it best: “Evening of Dreams is more than an event – it’s a community, a family.”
As one of the volunteers, I feel so blessed to not only be a part of it but to witness the beauty of it. Later that night, I was talking with my two high school sons who were both part of it, one as a date and the other as food service worker. Both had a ball and both love the night was much as I do. A comment had been made at the end of the night by one of my son’s friends that “This dance was better than our junior prom.” Later I asked my boys why they thought he had said that.
Their perspective was fascinating and enlightening: No one cares.
No one cares who is popular or who is not. No one cares who has the better date. No one cares who is friends with who or who has the better dress. No one cares about being cool or trying to impress anyone. No one cares if they fall down or look silly. No one cares if they have two left feet and can’t dance. No one cares about the after party and wants to leave early. No one cares about their selfies. No one cares about anything other than having fun and making memories.
In the high school world where status, friend groups, popularity and social hierarchy are so important and well defined, how refreshing to have a night where everyone shares the same goal and everyone is accepted. What makes the night so special? The playing field is even. No one is better than anyone else.
The idea of teaching our teenagers to put others first is hard in a world that is dominated by social media. Yet, Evening of Dreams does just that. The dates put aside their own wants, needs and schedules, and thought about the needs of others first. And the ironic thing is that they were happy doing it. I didn’t see students sulking or pouting if their date needed to take a break or needed to have the food wiped off their face or wanted to keep dancing song after song. I saw teenagers step up and be their best selves and doing for others, bringing smiles to their faces and joy in their hearts. You don’t believe me? Watch a video from the night and you will see dates and guests embracing all the night offered and loving every minute of it. It is the kind of night that you never want to end. It is that magical.
My dear friend made a great point: They say this is a prom for special students with special needs, but it’s a prom for all of us. Thank you, Evening of Dreams, for a time and a place for all of us to celebrate together. Thank you for reminding us that everyone should be treated with love and respect, and everyone deserves to feel special and accepted. Thank you for showing us what compassion looks like and reminding us that when we give to others, we feel better about ourselves. Thank you for giving us a place to all be equal and celebrating diversity. Thank you for the laughs, the hugs, the dancing and the friendships. Thank you for showing us that we live with superheroes every day. They live among us, they surround us and they are everywhere. They are ordinary people who make themselves extraordinary.