Correction: An earlier version of this story mistakenly said that Lansdowne Resort donated dessert and an ice sculpture for the Freedom High School prom. The dessert and sculpture were donated by the National Conference Center. The story has been updated.
There will be gowns and tuxedos, limousines and a catered dinner, chandeliers and a disc jockey. There will also be hats. Lots of hats.
But Freedom High School in South Riding will not be having a typical prom this year. The school has decided that all the money that would usually be spent to create an evening of luxury and entertainment for students will be used to fight childhood cancer.
Instead of a fancy hotel, Saturday’s prom will take place at the high school, where the cafeteria and gym will be transformed into a dining room and ballroom.
“The whole goal is to make it not look like the school at all,” said Vivek Ramakrishnan, senior class president.
Donna Draisey and Jessica Connors, junior class faculty sponsors, said the rooms will be so elegantly decorated that the students will not recognize them. Students are making the chandeliers, using black, gold, silver and white beads and strings of white lights, Draisey said.
Faculty members will serve a catered dinner of chicken, pasta and Caesar salad, donated by Whole Foods. The National Conference Center will provide a dessert buffet and ice sculpture. A jazz combo featuring one of the assistant principals will perform during dinner, and Olivera Music Entertainment is supplying the disc jockey for the dance.
Area businesses will also donate photo booths and an Academy Awards-style “step and repeat” banner, featuring logos of the event’s sponsors, to serve as a backdrop for photos.
Connors said the Hilton Washington Dulles Airport hotel returned a $5,000 deposit that the school had placed before the idea for the charity ball came up. That served as seed money to cover the initial expenses for the prom.
“Normally, we would spend tens of thousands of dollars just on the venue itself,” Connors said. “And then we’d have to pay our DJ and our photographer, and everything else that’s coming in.”
“It’s just really amazing to see all the generosity that’s been displayed,” said Bobby Doherty, junior class president.
The junior class officers, who traditionally organize the prom, came up with the idea, Draisey said. They decided to raise money to fight pediatric cancer. They enlisted the help of the senior class officers when they realized what a big undertaking it would be.
Pediatric cancer has been the focus of many of the school’s fundraising initiatives, Vivek said. At least four students at the school are undergoing cancer treatments, and several children in South Riding elementary schools are also battling the disease, he said.
The planning committee decided on the theme “Hats On to Fight Pediatric Cancer,” inspired partly by Ellie’s Hats, a South Riding-based charity that gives hats to children who lose their hair during cancer treatments. All promgoers are being asked to wear a hat to show support for the cause.
Bobby said there was “some hesitation” when the student body first got wind of the idea.
“When some people heard it was going to be in the gym, they assumed it was because we didn’t have enough money,” he said. “But when we came out with the idea and showed them how beautiful the gym’s going to look, and how many people we are going to help, they were glowing.”
“After that, people came up and said, ‘I‘m so excited to be part of this. This makes me proud to go to Freedom,’ ” Vivek said.
Local businesses and individuals are donating items for a silent auction, including jewelry, overnight stays at Salamander and Lansdowne resorts, and autographed gear from Washington’s professional sports teams.
Instead of a popularity contest, the school will bestow the honors of prom king and queen to the senior boy and girl who have the most money donated in their names, Vivek said.
The planning committee’s goal for ticket sales and the silent auction is $40,000, “every penny” of which will go to the fight against childhood cancer, Draisey said. Most will be donated to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and the remainder will go to local organizations that support families of children with cancer, she said.
The organizers hope that the charity prom concept spreads to other schools and that it will become a permanent event at Freedom.
“I can’t imagine going back to our ‘normal’ prom,” Connors said. “Especially after the reception this has received and the positive vibes surrounding it.”