Editor's note: Below is an excerpt from a piece titled "Where Every Kid Is a Perfect Fit" by Dave Urbanski as part of our special cover feature "America in Action: This Is Who We Are" in The Blaze Magazine.
This particular piece tells the story of The House, Inc., a nonprofit student leadership center serving the D.C.-Metro area. Not only is The House creating the leaders we need for tomorrow, but they're also teaching their students the importance of service. And nowhere is that more evident in their annual A Cinderella Ball.
The "America in Action" series covers several inspiring stories and ideas that -- if we choose to emulate them -- can help make America a better place.
Get the full story about The House and A Cinderella Ball in the newest issue of The Blaze Magazine.
One day almost nine years ago, Jonell Floyd got off the bus, went inside his house, sat at a table to do some class work and suddenly got an extreme headache.
It was the last time he would get to look at the world.
Floyd woke up from a coma paralyzed on the left side of his body and unable to see.
A victim of Devic’s disease—a neurological disorder that attacked Floyd’s spinal cord and optic nerve—Floyd has yet to regain his sight, and he needs a cane to walk.
But those limitations haven’t deterred Floyd, now an eighth-grader at Woodbridge (Va.) Middle School. He’s learned to communicate using Morse code and a Dvorak keyboard—he even put together a joke book for his district superintendent using his unique abilities.
“Jonell’s world literally changed; nothing is insignificant for him,” says Todd McCormick, executive director of The House, Inc., a nonprofit student leadership center that’s offered tutoring, mentoring, leadership training, recreation and empowerment for underserved Washington, D.C.-area middle and high school students since 2005.
“But there’s a lot of greatness within him.”
While McCormick’s organization isn’t specifically geared toward youths battling disabilities, one special annual event The House has sponsored certainly is.
And Floyd was an honored guest—“our inspiration this year,” says McCormick—at A Cinderella Ball.
McCormick describes the gala as “a unique and unduplicated opportunity” for hundreds of Washington, D.C.-area youth with disabilities or life-threatening illnesses to dress up, pass underneath a ceremonial sword arch (courtesy of 40 Marines from Quantico) upon a real red carpet and through the entrance of The Willard InterContinental Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue, one block from the White House. And it’s all free-of-charge for the students and their families.
There Cinderella greets attendees and their family members, and everyone enjoys a private dinner, concert and dance. This year’s entertainment for A Cinderella Ball—held last month—was Grammy-winning gospel music duo, Mary Mary. Previous performers have included “American Idol” winners Jordin Sparks and Ruben Studdard.
“This year’s Ball allows us to realize that these children aren’t just waiting for it, they’re living for it,” McCormick says. “They’re postponing treatments and decisions about treatments so they can attend. Parents are taking their kids out of hospital waiting rooms so they can experience this event.”
One of the hallmarks of The House is the belief that “our children are powered by service,” McCormick explains. And part of that service is manifested each year as students involved in The House identify peers in their schools dealing with disabilities or life-threatening illnesses.
McCormick says that since A Cinderella Ball took flight in 2006, about 1,000 invitations have gone out to prospective attendees.
McCormick explains that it’s very rare for these students to have “memory-making” experiences and “share in school events like a prom.” So, he notes, students from The House reach out to them and spend weeks “collecting prom attire and tuxedos” for the pre-Ball event, Cinderella’s Closet, where each guest selects his or her choice of prom apparel—all of which has been donated by businesses and people around the nation.