In 2011, Rob and Cheryl Shields were inspired to organize a San Diego County Prom for high school students with special needs, including Autism, Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, and other physical challenges. They organized this event with two goals in mind:
Integrate students with special needs, our “Honored Guests”, with an “able-bodied” student from an area school, our “Hosts”. We have seen many new friendships form and understanding develop between our Honored Guests and Hosts.
Honor and celebrate our Honored Guests with a first-class prom. Instead of being marginalized, our Honored Guests are loved and celebrated. They are the ROCK STARS of the night!
What started as a discussion at the kitchen table over the holidays in Rob’s hometown of Rockford, Illinois (where a similar event was being held) has turned into an event that is impacting thousands of people in the San Diego area. Rob and Cheryl have triplets, two girls and one boy, none of whom have special needs. This is an event they are passionate about, not because of any personal interest, but because it serves a real and genuine need in the community.
After months of planning and hoping for 50 students to attend, the first A Night to Remember Prom was held in May 2011 for over 300 students. Each year attendance has grown and currently the prom welcomes over 800+ students from 70 different schools in the San Diego area.
One of the most remarkable things about A Night to Remember Prom is the breadth of people it reaches and the ways in which it touches their lives. A Night to Remember Prom is an event designed to reach students with special needs; the impact on that group is unquestionable. But this event has positively impacted the mainstream student Hosts as well. Through this Prom, barriers are broken and friendships are formed. On prom night, dancing and fun knows no disability. One of the prom’s Hosts captured it best in the May 2014 USA Today article featuring the event – “It’s the greatest feeling and the most incredible thing I have ever done…It’s like any other high school dance if you minus the awkwardness and multiply the happiness.” A Night to Remember’s vision for this event truly has multiplied the happiness for these students.
Another group of people this event has impacted in immeasurable ways are the parents and family members of the Honored Guests. Below are three excerpts from thank you notes received from parents of Honored Guests that best sum up the impact of Prom:
We want to thank YOU from the bottom of our hearts for this amazing event. My son looked forward to Prom for a long time, thoroughly enjoyed his “buddy”, danced all night (even learned some new dance moves from his buddy), has a beautiful picture as a reminder, and will look forward with anticipation to next year’s event. This was a truly generous, lovely and heart-warming experience for us and for all these special needs children. It brought tears to our eyes, a lump in our throats, and a memory that will last a lifetime.
I just had to take a moment today to THANK YOU and your husband so much for organizing A Night to Remember. As the mother of a girl who I never DREAMED would go to a prom, you have no idea how much this night meant to me. I was absolutely blown away by how WELL ORGANIZED the event was and how helpful, kind, considerate, and friendly everyone was. It was a Class Act!
Thank you so much for putting together “A Night to Remember” for our kids. When I first saw the flyer, it made me cry. Actually, just thinking about it makes me cry. Since my daughter started high school, I have always thought and wondered, “Will she ever experience going to a prom?” “Who would invite her to the prom?” Those thoughts will soon become a reality. My daughter and many other kids will get to experience one of the most memorable events of their lives. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Hi just wanted to send you a quick email my daughter and I went to the dress fitting today to choose a dress. You are doing such a special thing! In most cases kids with a disability never have an opportunity to go to any normal school functions let alone a prom, so for her to be able to do this is beyond HUGE! You are a blessing to all the parents out there that have a child with a disability. Thank you on behalf of my family and all the other families out there that will have an opportunity to participate in this event.