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A Cinderella Night for Students with Disabilities, Serious Illness

  • June Soh

Choosing a dress for the Cinderella Ball which is held for middle and high school students with disabilities or life-threatening illnesses.

Middle and high school students enjoy a special evening at the prom

In the United States, high school students usually attend a prom at the end of the school year.

It's a party that many consider one of the most memorable moments of their young lives. But students with disabilities and life threatening illnesses are mostly left out of the celebrations. On a recent Sunday, the dream came true for some of these students at a Washington extravaganza entirely paid for by donations from individuals and corporations.

Going to the prom

It's a moment 16-year-old Caleigh Hildebrandt has waited a year for. She rolls along the red carpet in a wheelchair with a big smile.

"It makes my day," says Caleigh. "Excited and going down on the red carpet makes me even more excited."

Caleigh was born with spina bifida, a birth defect of the spinal cord and backbone. She's one of more than 100 kids invited to the Cinderella Ball, an annual event in the nation's capital for middle and high school students with disabilities or life threatening illnesses.

U.S. Marines form a sword arch as each student arrives at the fancy hotel near the White House.

Helen McCormick, a former teacher, founded the Cinderella Ball five years ago.

"Cinderella Ball began because we thought of students that aren't always included in proms or school activities," she says. "So when we decided that we do something special to make their dream come true or wish come true, we started looking at children whose life-long dependency on their parents will be forever and whose invitation to a prom or invitation to a dance isn't given to them because of the disability."

US Marines form a sword arch as each student arrives at the fancy hotel near the White House.
US Marines form a sword arch as each student arrives at the fancy hotel near the White House.

Getting ready

McCormick says the word got out, and pretty soon donations of dresses, shoes, tuxedos and ties started coming in from across the country.

On a weekend before the ball, students went to Cinderella Closet to select donated items with help from volunteers. Everyone is the center of attention. They primp, in search of the perfect look.

Robyn Casey is the mother of 18-year-old Brittany Meyer.

"Brittany was born with a rare disability. The first year and every year, I cry. It is really, it is like my emotions took over. I never imagined her dressed in a beautiful gown for a special night."

Big night

At the ball, students and their families enjoy the performance of Jordin Sparks, winner of the American Idol TV show four years ago.

"Everybody deserves a chance to be at a prom or at a ball. Everybody deserves a chance to dress up. Everybody deserves a chance to dance," says Kyle Maynard, a congenital amputee and author of the best selling book "No Excuses."

Caleigh receives a "No Excuses" award for her determination in overcoming obstacles.

Caleigh's father, Randy Hildebrandt, is an airforce officer. He says Caleigh has had 29 surgeries so far.

"This is a big deal for Caleigh and the family. It is really nice that the kids can have focus on them even though they don't ask for it. But they enjoy and they deserve it because they work harder in the year to get through their tough times."

Spinning to the music, the boys and girls seem to forget the tough times, enjoying their own version of the Cinderella story.