By Lance Cpl. Kathy Nunez, Defense Media Activity
The House, Inc. Student Leadership Center held its 9th Annual National Capital Area A Cinderella Ball at the Willard Intercontinental Hotel here on June 8th.
A Cinderella Ball gives middle and high school students with disabilities or life-threatening illnesses the opportunity to attend a prom event, which is not always available to them.
“Prom time is important, but it sidelines children with disabilities,” said Helen McCormick, president and founder of the House Inc., Student Leadership Center. “The House chooses to find a way to incorporate kids with special needs. The Cinderella Ball makes sure that everybody is celebrating together.”
The House Inc., is a nationally recognized youth development program for middle and high school students in the Washington, D.C. area. The nonprofit organization began in 2005 and since then has been helping students prepare for a better future.
About 100 students are able to attend the Cinderella Ball every year. Some are first time guests while others like Andrew Sharp and his mother, Pam Sharp, have attended the ball for the past eight years.
“Andrew would not be able to go to a typical high school prom by himself,” Sharp said. “He loves to get dressed up and to dance. He is able to have this experience because of Helen.”
Two weeks before the ball, the students attended the House, Inc.’s A Cinderella Closet, where they each chose their prom attire to wear to the event.
“People who donate to the prom make it possible for the children to dress their best,” McCormick said. “Their dresses and tuxedos are personally altered and every finishing touch is made.”
Upon the students’ arrival to the hotel, Marines from Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va. personally welcomed and escorted each student down the red carpet, through the arch of Marine Corps non-commissioned officer swords and into the ballroom where they would meet Cinderella.
“When I thought about the Cinderella Ball, I always thought of what a wedding looks like with the Marines holding their swords up in an arch,” McCormick said. “It’s something I looked at and I said, a Cinderella needs that, a Cinderella Ball needs that.”
The Marines have played a part in A Cinderella Ball since it’s inauguration in 2006. McCormick personally pursued for them to be a part of this special event.
Wounded Marine veteran, sponsor and third year attendee, Cpl. Joshua Himan, hopes to see the Marines continue to come out and support the event.
“The kids really enjoy it,” Himan said. “Helen does such a great job. I am amazed every time I see these kids – they have a blast.”
This year’s attendance included the students and their families, the Marines, J.R. Martinez, guest speaker and U.S. Army veteran, the Washington Wizards’ John Wall and the Washington Redskins’ Pierre Garçon who presented college scholarships to student members of the House, Inc.
In addition to the scholarship presentations, the House, Inc. presents a “No Excuses Award” to a student with disabilities in honor of their accomplishments every year. This year’s winner is A.J. Starr, a 2014 University of Alabama graduate, whose story was found through ESPN. Starr has overcome the obstacles of cerebral palsy since birth. Thanks to a chance encounter with the university’s star quarterback, AJ McCarron, Starr became a beloved member of the school’s football team, where he was accepted despite his differences.
Following the presentations and a luncheon provided by the hotel, the guests enjoyed dancing and the entertainment provided by multi-Grammy award-winning duo, Mary Mary, who returned to A Cinderella Ball for their fourth year.
The ball came to an end on the dance floor, where the students, their families and the Marines laughed and danced together.
“You look out there and you don’t see kids with disabilities,” Sharp said. “You just see happy kids having a great time and being accepted for who they are.”