Teen Talk

Teen Talk: Prom for teens with special needs brings out the best

Kelly Richardson is writing an advice column for teens that will run on Sidetracks. The Sacramento Bee/ Anne Chadwick Williams  4/10/01
Kelly Richardson is writing an advice column for teens that will run on Sidetracks. The Sacramento Bee/ Anne Chadwick Williams 4/10/01 Sacramento Bee Staff Photo

It happened again. Please accept my apologies for writing about the same event again but some things are so amazing they are meant to be shared over and over.

The sixth annual Evening of Dreams, a prom for special-needs students, is one of those. Last year was my first time volunteering at the event and I wrote a column about it being a life-changing experience.

This year, when registration opened for the May 16 event, I logged on at midnight to be sure I got a chance to be part of it again. My family, all five of us, volunteered in different roles that night and took pride in making it a day about serving others. I went to the event, held at Sacramento’s Capital Christian Center, telling myself that last year was incredible because it was my first time, and expecting that my experience this year would probably not be the same or have the same impact.

I was wrong. Not only was this year amazing, it was just as wonderful, special and inspiring as last year. I left the dance on an emotional high and with a strong sense of faith in the next generation of young people because of the kindness and character I witnessed.

The night was not about charity nor was it about parents forcing their teenagers to go. One peek at the excitement, the smiles and the laughter in the room and you knew that the teenagers chose to be there and it was a night they would never forget. In one word, the night represents joy.

This year, 248 special-needs guests were paired up with teenage escorts for an evening that included food, dancing and a photo booth. There were more teenage escorts ready to volunteer than there were guests. Some teenagers doubled up as dates and others went to the dance alone to just be a part of the event. No teenagers complained, no one acted upset or angry, and no one let any disappointment ruin the evening. The teenagers, happy to be there and happy to be making others happy, shined that night.

Recently someone replied by email to a column I wrote, telling me how today’s teenagers are self-serving and entitled. I wish the writer of that letter had attended Evening of Dreams because it was a way to see teenagers at their best: Teenagers choosing to give up their Saturday night to make someone else’s night better. Teenagers who put their egos aside and treated everyone as equals. Teenagers who put their cellphones down and their dancing shoes on. Teenagers who chose service over self. Teenagers who accepted people – their disabilities and their capabilities – and embraced all the possibilities. Teenagers who rose to their potential – with compassion, humility and kindness. Teenagers who put aside all their “stuff,” their drama and their personal issues, to make the night about someone else.

One of my dear friends who shared the evening with me had a remarkable observation at the end of the night: “Who is serving whom?”

I write this column to bring light to this amazing event but also to send out huge props to all those who volunteered. To the 486 volunteers that evening I say, “Job well done.” To the 248 teenage escorts, I say: “Remember the moments, remember the gratitude your dates felt when you treated them with respect and kindness, and remember the value of making everyone feel special. Everyone matters. Thank you for representing your generation with class and proving to all the doubters that there are amazing, inspiring teenagers who will serve our world and continue to spread humanity and benevolence to all people. You will make us proud.”

May 14, 2016, is already circled on my calendar. I’m excited.

Write to Kelly Richardson at Teen Talk, The Sacramento Bee, P.O. Box 15880, Sacramento, CA 95852, or email krichardson@ sacbee.com.