Teen Talk

All young people are stars at special Evening of Dreams event

DEAR READERS: The recent eighth annual Evening of Dreams was a wild success. I had the honor and privilege of being a witness to young people at their best. The theme was “Under the Sea,” but the joy felt throughout the room was over the moon.

If you have followed my column over the years, you know I have written about this night before. After the second year I apologized for writing about it again and was scolded by many readers. They told me to not apologize and to please keep writing about it. They told me it was refreshing to hear about teenagers doing good things and we needed more stories like this showing the character of our upcoming generation.

So I offer no apologies but rather a peek at this night that instills hope in our young people who offered up their Saturday night to make someone else’s dream come true. If you were involved in any way, I tip my hat to you.

Evening of Dreams is a local event put on at Capital Christian Center and directed by Michelle Raby that pairs student athletes and high school students with special needs for a prom that glorifies and celebrates each person as if they were royalty. It is just one night, yet I heard so many parents say that their child looks forward to the night all year.

Who doesn’t love feeling like a king or queen all night and feeling “normal” when the world has told you that you are different? One mom of a special needs guests posted: “Excitement in this house is rivaling Christmas morning.” It is that big of a deal.

I am often asked by people what makes the night so special, and I tell people it is hard to put in words. There are no words to describe the feeling in the room, the smiles on the faces and the love felt by all who attend. There are no catchy phrases or clever hashtags that can portray or summarize what Evening of Dreams creates in one night.

Let me share a few personal highlights that made the night so special:

After seeing a video about Evening of Dreams, “This is Us” star Jermel Nakia reached out to the EOD staff and asked to be a part of the night. He asked them to join; they didn’t have to ask him. He made a special trip up from Los Angeles in April for the tuxedo fitting of the special needs guests. He spent the evening talking with guests, taking pictures, dancing and making everyone feel worthy and valued. What a great message he sent to teenagers – you are never too big or too important to take time out of your life to make someone else feel good.

My older son returned from college to attend with his same amazing date from last year. Maddie made him the best homemade sign asking him to go to the prom with her. She had worked all morning writing and coloring it. What if teenagers stopped trying to impress and just went with what was in their heart? Wouldn’t the world be such a nicer, more relaxed place to live?

Usher – yes the famous singer Usher – sent a personal video to the guests about having fun and enjoying the night. He wanted to be a part of the evening and to show his support. It was awesome seeing the guests cheer and show delight when his video was played. While I don’t admit to being a very knowledgeable person when it comes to music, I am now an Usher fan.

Many UC Davis football players took their Saturday night and crossed the causeway to be a part of the special night. Instead of being at a frat party, they were dancing and celebrating with guests. At one point I looked up and saw UCD student athlete C.J. Spencer, a Sacramento native, rocking a silly paper crab hat and dancing with a guest in a wheelchair. The smile on her face was priceless.

So many tall dates ended up being matched with darling tiny guests, yet their difference in size made no difference in the connection they shared. I watched big, tall boys and girls get on their knees to dance with their dates and take pictures with them.

The evening’s prom queen Julie Miller tweeted: “I was crowned prom queen at evening of dreams it was by far the best night of my life thank you Tanner for ever.”

My 16-year-old son’s date, Karissa Krater, is an accomplished Special Olympics swimmer – going for her 50th gold medal this month – and Miss Inspirational American Ambassador 2017. They danced the night away. He now considers her a friend. She is an amazing example of someone who inspires others to be their best and never give up.

The stories could go on and on. The lives affected are too many to count. The dancing is heart-warming. The touching moments are endless. The friendships made are genuine. The laughter is contagious. The goodness in teenagers creates hope for future generations.

The message is clear: Treat all people with love and respect and you will be a better person for the experiences you have. Everyone deserves to feel special, and everyone deserves to know that they matter. At the end of the day, kindness always wins. Thank you, Evening of Dreams, for reminding us this and teaching us so many more valuable life lessons.