A news report about a California nonprofit holding proms for kids with life-threatening diseases and the chronically ill spurred Sara Sanders into action.
Sanders, a West Potomac High School senior, was friends several years ago with a classmate who died due to birth defects. When she heard of No Worries Now through CNN Heroes, she jumped at the chance to lend a hand and this year is organizing the Washington area’s first-ever prom for the students with life-threatening diseases.
Past guests have called previous proms a “night to be carefree,” she said.
“It’s really touching, because these teens go through so much, but it’s their night to be really special,” said Sanders, 17. “And I think that’s important for everyone on prom night, but especially for people who face real challenges.”
The No Worries Now Foundation organizes proms for teens with life-threatening illnesses who may not live long enough to attend their own proms. It was founded in 2005 by teenager Fred Scarf, who had just lost a close friend to bone cancer.
The first No Worries Now prom was held in 2006 in Los Angeles, said the organization's Executive Director Marta Belcher. Until this year, with the launch of the organization’s “Prom in a Box” program that allows volunteers nationwide to start their own proms, only one prom has been held annually, in California. The number of attendees has risen each year, to about 500 in 2011.
This year, No Worries Now proms will be held in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sacramento, Detroit and Washington, Belcher said.
“A lot of these kids are in and out of hospitals,” she said. “They just never get a chance to feel like normal teenagers and they never get a chance to do things their friends do. … We want to enrich their lives, so it’s not just hospital rooms constantly, and give them an outlet to meet other people like them, not be judged, and just have a good time. And be teens.”
Sanders, Belcher said, is mature beyond her years.
“She could be 30 years old, talking on the phone,” she said. “You would never know. She follows through on everything. She’s really the ideal ‘Prom in a Box’ organizer.”
Sanders is working with local hospitals to distribute invitations to the local No Worries Now prom, to be held June 11 at Top of the Town. Top of the Town is donating the venue. Superb Cuisines has offered to provide food, and Four Sales, an estate sales company and inventory inspector, has also provided monetary support, Sanders said. “It’s just nice to see everyone getting involved to support a good cause,” she said.
Sanders will be at the prom to make sure the event runs smoothly. She doesn’t know if she’ll make it into her own dress—a cream-colored, floor-length affair she bought for her own prom—at No Worries Now, or if she’ll be too busy.
Participants must buy their own attire, but each participant and a guest can attend the prom at no charge.
Sanders said she’s been able to handle putting on the prom despite intense involvement in school activities, including marching band, multiple clubs and being a member of the student government. And, she’s also been getting ready for her own prom and graduation.
“It’s been difficult trying to manage everything, but I feel that when you’re passionate about something, you make time for it, and the organization has just been so supportive, so it’s been really great,” she said. “And it’s been a pretty smooth process because the community’s so generous and it’s a great cause.”
This fall she’ll be attending college at Creighton University in Omaha, where she plans to double major in health administration and policy and medical anthropology, with the hope of one day working in international development.
Sanders’ mother, Karen Sanders, said the family is very proud of her daughter’s hard work.
“Sara never ceases to amaze her father or (me) because she’s just a kid who sees something and jumps in and tries to fill the need,” she said. “So, she came bopping down the stairs one afternoon, and she goes, ‘Guess what I’ve just done?’ and told us she got involved with No Worries Now. And we were like, ‘Wow! Good for you!’ ”
Anyone wishing to donate to the Washington prom or assit in other ways may contact Sara Sanders at email@example.com or by phone at 703-447-4622.