Rachael Gottes spent this week getting ready for prom, a very special prom hosted by the No Worries Foundation last night. Rachael feels completely at ease at this prom, because she is attending with others who have life-threatening disease, like she does. Gottes suffers from leukemia.
Prom is often celebrated as one of the most important events in a high school student’s lifetime, but children who have been diagnosed with terminal illnesses sometimes don’t get to enjoy those moments, so the foundation has held a prom for them the past five years.
“I am just really looking forward to the experience and to meet kids who know what you are going through, you can’t really go out when you are under treatment,” Gottes said.
“If a lot of these kids were to go to their own prom, they would feel like the odd one out, but at No Worries Now you look around, and you don’t know who is sick and who isn’t, it’s not something on anyone’s mind,” said Marta Belcher, executive director of the foundation.
More than 500 terminally ill teens and survivors of illnesses, ranging in age of 13 to 21, participated in the prom held at Madame Tussauds Hollywood, which included a red carpet entry.
In 2006, Fred Scarf founded the No Worries Now Foundation, when he was just 17 years old. It began as the Shiri Foundation, named in honor of founder Scarf’s best friend, Shiri Gumbiner, who passed away after a long battle with osteosarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer. The foundation decided to change its name three years ago to give it a more global appeal.
“I thought he had no idea what he was in for,” said Fred’s father, Robert Scarf. “I thought it would be much harder and I underestimated how hard he would work to put this together. The foundation is a function of his relentless effort to get this done and make the events the best they could possibly be. I didn’t know how much hard work it would be, but it has really blossomed and is even better than I thought it would be.”
Scarf did what he could to support his son and drove him to meetings with hospital representatives and social workers who all told them they already had enough programming. But after a solid year of commitment to the project, their first prom materialized in 2007.
“Part of being a non-profit is you have to knock on a lot of doors, and that’s how we started out until we finally got a contact and got in,” Belcher said.
Since then, the event has been helped along by sponsorship from venues, like Madame Tussauds, who donated this year’s prom location and other supplies, along with the services of various caricature artists, and many of the teens’ dresses and tuxedos, Belcher said.
“The prom has become a singular event because we are working 365 days for one night and we are thinking about it all the time; how to make it better, how to get more kids there and make them happier,” Scarf said.
“In my opinion it’s a hundred times better than anyone’s high school prom could be, and last year, we even had celebrities come,” Belcher said.
This year, Lady Gaga and Johnny Depp’s character of Jack Sparrow from the Pirates of the Caribbean series will make an appearance — in wax — as two of the newer additions to Madame Tussauds.
Working in an environment with the terminally ill, the group of volunteers sometimes faces the harsh reality of a death in the No Worries Now Foundation family.
“It’s something you learn to expect, not deal with…I don’t think it gets any easier as we go on,” Scarf said.
But for the teens, like Gottes, who get to dress up, dance and be with people who understand what their life is really like, it’s a blessing to have the foundation around, Belcher said.
“It’s so upbeat,” Gottes said. “It’s just about celebrating the life that you have and it’s fun to not have to think about that side of life.”