Each year, Brittany Holman says she feels like a princess on the Evening of Dreams prom night for the disabled. The 25-year-old with Down syndrome called the dance the highlight of her year.
“It’s amazing. I like the dancing, I like my dress. I dance with my date,” Holman said. “It’s important to have fun.”
Evening of Dreams gives 250 teens and young adults in the special needs community a chance to attend a prom night, a coming-of-age ceremony that is often inaccessible to the population it celebrates. The red-carpet event, hosted by Sacramento-based Capital Christian Center, pairs its guests with students from surrounding high schools and universities.
This year the nonprofit has asked Book of Dreams readers to donate funds to help provide each guest with a packet of prom photos. The photographs are offered at $30 apiece, but many families are unable to pay and the organizers would like to offer the service as a free gift, said Michelle Raby, event founder.
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“It’s one of the tokens of the night and it tells the story … a story of inclusion,” she said.
Launched in 2009, the annual May event pairs features about 500 volunteers – half of them acting as prom dates and the rest are friends and family of guests. The volunteers decorate the performing arts center at Capital Christian School with an explosion of balloons, sparkling lights and an enchanting theme.
Themes have included “Wizard of Oz,” “High School Musical” and “American Idol.” Last year, mermaids from Dive Bar in downtown Sacramento performed in a large tank brought in for an “Under the Sea” concept. This year’s theme is the “Happiest Prom on Earth,” featuring actors dressed as princes and princesses.
In recent years, the event has attracted star power. This year, actor Jermel Nakia from the NBC show ‘This is Us’ flew in from Los Angeles to join guests for a tuxedo fitting at the Men’s Warehouse in Sacramento. The pop singer Usher once sent a congratulatory video to attendees.
After the guests have dressed in tuxedos and prom dresses, they are picked up by classic cars and limousines and ferried to the dance hall. As each couple parades down a red carpet, they are introduced by a live announcer as hundreds of volunteer “paparazzi” snap photos and cheer them on.
“It really brings awareness to kids who are often left out and overlooked,” Raby said. She added that the message of the night is, “We see you and we want you to be known. You do matter.’”
From the event’s inception, Raby said her vision was to use Evening of Dreams to inspire young volunteers to raise awareness about empathy for those with disabilities. She visits high schools across the capital region to ask youths to champion the issue.
She said she tells high school students, “Your voice is louder than mine. When you include kids in prom, it’s your job to include them on your campus.”
Needed: Prom photo packet for Evening of Dreams participants.