By Aaron Blevins, 6/27/2013
Event serves youth with disabilities, terminal illnesses
The DJ was spinning the appropriate dance songs. The subwoofers shook the dance floor with each bass note. Food and drink was readily available, and the red carpet had been unrolled. The Ebell of Los Angeles was jumping.
A conga line forms on the dance floor at the Ebell of Los Angeles, where No Worries Now held its annual prom. (photo by Aaron Blevins)
Eighteen-year-old Alex Martinez left his wheelchair at the door. A resident of northeast Los Angeles living with a high-functioning form of spina bifida, he wasn’t going to let his chair lessen his fun at the No Worries Now Los Angeles Prom 2013 last Thursday.
“I’m really enjoying it,” he said in the courtyard, sporting a vest and dress pants for the occasion. The nearby waterfall was glowing, providing ambience for those waiting in line for the photo booth or to have their caricatures drawn. “I’m having a lot of fun. There’s a lot of stuff to do here.”
Martinez, who works for Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s Office through its Summer Night Lights program, attended with his mother, Paula Ramirez, and her fiancée, Alex Nery. It was the family’s second No Worries Now prom.
“I think it’s great,” Nery said. “They’re doing something for a good cause. We need more of these programs, more of these events for these kids.”
Ramirez said high school proms can be tough for people with healthcare needs, who encounter extra obstacles during the already hectic day. She said the No Worries Now events are more inclusive.
“This is nice — to have something tailored for people like himself,” Ramirez added.
That is certainly the idea behind the proms hosted by No Worries Now, a nonprofit organization founded by in 2006 by Fred Scarf. Since its first prom in 2007, volunteers have been hosting the events for terminally ill youth who may not live long enough to enjoy their own prom. Not all of the participants have life-threatening illnesses, however.
Marta Belcher, executive director of No Worries Now, said Scarf originally founded the organization as the Shiri Foundation to honor his friend, Shiri Gumbiner, who had died from cancer. When discussing the foundation’s mission, the idea for a prom was pitched since Scarf and Gumbiner had wanted to go to prom together before she died.
The foundation eventually combined with an umbilical cord blood banking advocacy organization, Cal Cord Blood, and No Worries Now was born, she said. Since then, the organization has hosted proms every year in Los Angeles, where the nonprofit was founded. However, through its Prom In A Box program, volunteers in other cities also host annual proms.
The No Worries Now proms are held at different facilities each year. This year’s event was the first at the Ebell. Last year’s prom was at Sony Pictures Studios.
“We try to get some variety,” Belcher said. “A lot of the same kids come year after year, so we want them to have a new experience every year.”
Approximately 300 people attended last Thursday’s event. Belcher said No Worries Now works with social workers, local hospitals and cancer support organizations to draw participants. But the event has really taken off thanks to participants telling their friends, she said.
“It’s just grown into this great thing,” Belcher added. “It’s super cool for everyone involved. The idea is that patients here have been sitting in hospital rooms all year. We say it’s for teens who won’t live long enough to attend their own proms, but that’s not only who it’s for. It’s for teens who wear hospital gowns all the time. Tonight’s the night when they get to wear their ball gowns instead.”
Participants certainly enjoyed the effort. Kathy Robinson Young, the niece of Dodgers legend Jackie Robinson, attended with her daughter, Brittni, who described the event as “good.” It was their fifth No Worries Now prom.
“It’s a family reunion,” Young said. “It’s a lot of fun.”
Like Young and her daughter, Granada Hills resident Darius Smajur and his daughter, Veronique, were tearing up the dance floor.
“This is such a great event,” he said. “We are so grateful to be here. …It’s a great, great event.”
Coleen Garcia began attending the proms three years ago after one of her students at La Serna High School in Whittier was diagnosed with leukemia. The student’s mother had been a big supporter of No Worries Now, Garcia said.
“We just want to serve other people and help out,” she said. “It makes my heart feel stronger. It makes me forget about the problems that I have when I realize, you know, we’ve all got issues in our lives, but when you have health issues like some of these people do, you can’t complain. We’ve got nothing to complain about.”
The all-volunteer organization relies heavily on donations, proceeds from its T-shirt sales and community partners to host the events, Belcher said. She said No Worries Now partners provided free dresses and make-up for participants. On June 18, attendees could pick out a dress courtesy of Becca’s Closet of Tracy at Millennium Dance Complex in North Hollywood.
However, more help is always needed. No Worries Now will host its first-ever fundraising gala and silent auction from 6 to 11 p.m. on Sept. 7 at UCLA, and the organization hosts small fundraisers throughout the year.
The donations also help benefit its Pair Program, which aims to spread the “specialness of prom night” throughout the rest of the year, Belcher said. Volunteers and patients are paired based on their interests and personalites, and they go on outings to places such as Disneyland.
For information, visit www.noworriesnow.org.