The Patriot Ledger: A prom for people who have more to worry about

Prom Night.  A rite of passage.  Perhaps the first formal affair any teenager will attend.  A symbol marking their transition into adulthood.  In the early 19th century, American proms, or “promenades” were fashioned after European debutante balls and were established as a way for parents to instill a little culture and etiquette into the lives of their children.

For many teenagers, it is an important time in their lives.  My daughter, Jackie, is still a year and a half away from her first prom, but I assure you that the calendar distance has no relation whatsoever on the amount of prom discussion that she and her friends have each week.  There is already talk of dresses and limos and, of course, dates.

Prom was important to Tiffany Crump as well.  Climb inside her stilettos and you will understand her thrill at being invited by her dream date.  Her exhilaration anticipating her first limousine ride.  And, walk inside her shoes for just a moment longer, and you will also understand the absolute devastation when life threw up the most dreadful of road blocks.

“I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma just before prom,” Tiffany told me.  “I needed chemo and radiation to my neck, chest, pelvis and abdomen.  I wanted to go so bad.  But I was very sick.

An adult would understand that some things cannot be deferred.  But for a kid like Tiffany, this priority is harder to grasp.  At the time, and in the moment, prom just seems so important.  And that’s when Fred Scarf donned his tux, straightened out his bow-tie and waltzed his way right into Tiffany Crump’s life.

Fred Scarf met Shiri Gumbiner during their freshmen year in high school in Los Angeles.  Their bond was immediate and mutual.  They began spending all their free time together and each soon considered the other their best friend.

“It’s hard to describe her,” Fred told me.  “But anyone who met her knew she was special and had something unique about her.”

And, as best friends often do, they made a promise to each other.  No matter what their individual relationship situation was at the time, they would share prom only with each other.  And it would be wonderful.

Alas for every dream that comes true, there are thousands that do not.  And for all the dreams they shared and all the plans they had, Fred and Shiri’s castle in the sky would never be reached.  Shiri was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer, and died just after her sweet sixteenth birthday.  And just nine months before prom.

One of the most difficult aspects of losing someone so close is coming to the realization that life moves on.  Shiri occupied such a powerful part of his life that you had to question Fred’s capacity, at such a young age, to handle something like this.  It would have been so easy to withdraw.  Shut down.

I thought about what Shiri would have wanted me to do,” Fred said.  “I also thought about what I was capable of doing.”

And what was that you ask?  Well, Fred Scarf simply began making dreams come true.

He started the No Worries Now Foundation and began organizing proms for kids like Shiri.  Teenagers who missed their special nights because of life threatening illnesses or conflicting cancer treatments.  He started in Los Angeles and it was so well received and so well attended, that soon he was coordinating events in New York City as well.  And he’s not stopping there.  Not by a long shot.

“We have ambitions to organize proms all around the world,” Fred said.  “It feels nice to give teens like Shiri the chance to find a community where they can relax and be themselves.”

Tiffany Crump attended the LA event this year.  “This prom meant everything to me,” Tiffany said.  “We all felt so comfortable being ourselves.  I can’t wait for Prom 2011!”

“It’s still hard talking about Shiri,” Fred said.  “But these nights make me feel like she is still here.”

Oh she’s here Fred.  And she’s having the time of her life.

For more information check out No Worries Now.