MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. — Gunnery Sgt. Vanessa La Rosa hadn't heard of “A Cinderella Ball” until her son’s special-education teacher sent her an email about the event earlier this spring. On June 2, they and hundreds of others were dressed up and dining at the Willard InterContinental Hotel next door to the White House, awaiting a performance by the gospel duo and television stars Mary Mary.
“I think it’s amazing,” said La Rosa, who works for the Separation and Retirement Branch of Tenant Activities Company at Marine Corps Base Quantico, noting that the ball gave her son, Shane, a chance to see that he’s not alone. “And it’s nice to see other families dealing with the same difficulties I do,” she said.
“A Cinderella Ball” is an annual event for children of military families who have disabilities or life-threatening illnesses. This marked the sixth ball staged by The House Inc., a student leadership organization.
Shane was also impressed. “I’d say this is a pretty good hotel,” the Quantico Middle/High School sixth-grader said of the lodgings that have housed presidents, ambassadors and celebrities. “I’m most excited because I get to be around people that are kind of like me,” he added.
Lt. Col. Jennifer Blair said she especially enjoyed the chance to spend time with her son’s teachers outside the classroom. Blair is attached to Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall but lives aboard Quantico, where her son, 11th-grader Pike, attends school.
“It’s nice that these things come about because it gives an appreciation for how special someone has to be to be a special-needs teacher,” Blair said. Especially with parents deploying overseas, she said, families of special-needs children rely on such teachers. “It’s like the teachers are part of our families.”
She and her son were sharing a table with Quantico Middle/High School special education teacher Kat Syarto and her two teaching aides.
“This gives the parents and the kids a time to dress up and come out just like prom,” Syarto said. “It’s a chance to go out and be fancy like anyone else.”
Master Gunnery Sgt. Matthew Manieri, staff noncommissioned officer in charge of the Transportation Section at Quantico, said the ball was “not just a community event but a global event,” in that it brought attention to families that not only serve in combat but also have children with special needs like his son Adriano.
“It’s a joy to be a part of it,” said Terri Koch, who was there with her daughter Shelby, another of Syarto’s students. “I think it’s an awesome experience for these kids to be in the spotlight and have their special day.”
Adding to the pomp were 28 Marines from the Sergeant’s Course at Quantico’s Staff Noncommissioned Officers Academy, who escorted the children one by one into the hotel through an arch of swords.
Eric LeGrand, the former Rutgers University defensive lineman who was paralyzed in a collision with an opposing player in 2010, spoke at the event, and WUSA Channel 9 anchor J.C. Hayward acted as mistress of ceremonies.
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