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Today's Family Magazine

A Prom to Remember

Cleveland Indians pitcher Mike Clevinger chaperones the 2019 event.

By Stacy Turner

Every spring, teens around the country participate in what has become an annual right of passage that many take for granted — high school prom.  For kids battling cancer, prom is just one of the things they may need to set aside on their road to wellness.  And that’s something Jane and Mike Knausz set out to help change. 

Wedding photographers by trade, the couple’s first experience with A Prom to Remember took place when their daughter, Kim, asked them to volunteer with her at the first A Prom to Remember held in Fort Lauderdale, Florida in 2009.  That experience impacted the couple so dramatically that they knew they wanted to bring the experience home to Cleveland. 

The couple gathered together with friends to figure out how to host a similar event the very next spring.  Ten years later, the event is firmly entrenched in Cleveland, giving area teens battling cancer an opportunity to celebrate their lives and their youth in an environment of acceptance and camaraderie.

The event is open to guests who are currently or have recently received treatment for cancer at three area hospitals — Akron Children’s Hospital, Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital, and University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital.  Patients aged 12–19 who are receiving treatment or have recently received treatment for cancer are extended invitations to attend the annual gala.  Each year, roughly 75 children and their guests attend the special event, which will once again be held at the Ritz Carlton in Cleveland.  This year, A Prom to Remember will be held on March 28.

As you would expect, the event garners a great deal of excitement.  That night, these special kids are treated like movie stars arriving in limousines, walking the red carpet, and dancing the night away at a fabulous gala created just for them.

Local celebrities come in to make their evening even more amazing with live performances, autographs and pictures.  Local police and fire department personnel attend, acting as escorts, and doctors and nurses from local hospitals serve as chaperones making it a parent-free evening for the honored guests.  And best of all, the prom is held annually at no cost to the kids or their families.

“With the help of sponsors and donations, we provide everything necessary to make their prom unlike any other,” shared this year’s event chairperson Marianne J. Sumego, MD, a physician with the Cleveland Clinic,.

Once she learned of the event, she was hooked.  “Everyone has day jobs, but make time to help create a memorable event every year.   This is a phenomenal organization,” she exclaimed.  When she learned of Jane’s desire to ‘retire’ from running the event, she knew she wanted to help make sure it would continue.

“Everything from tuxedos for the boys, dresses, hair and make-up for the girls, limousine transportation, prom photos, food, entertainment and much more are all provided for these courageous teens,” she shared.  She acknowledges that the event wouldn’t be possible without the work of a large team of volunteers who begin planning up to a year in advance.

New and gently used dresses, shoes, wraps, and accessories are collected throughout the year.  In mid-February, participants were invited to a dress extravaganza at Our Redeemer Church in Solon, giving young ladies the opportunity to select a gown from the hundreds available to them at no cost.  The day after the extravaganza, any remaining items were offered for sale to the public, with all proceeds benefiting A Prom to Remember.

“Our Redeemer Church has been a wonderful new partner, providing a venue for the sale, and helping to set up dresses, shoes, and accessories, even providing food for our volunteers,” she marveled. 

Local seamstresses volunteer their time to make minor alterations that day, and a wide selection of shoes, wraps, and jewelry are also available, free for attendees and their guests.  Volunteers prepare for that event at least two months prior, shared Sumego.
Jackie Custer, a previous A Prom to Remember attendee from Akron Children’s Hospital, admitted she was more into sports than shopping.

“But when it comes to prom,” Jackie shared, “I was really excited to go shopping!”   Her mom, Julie Custer, went to the dress extravaganza with her to help Jackie pick out a dress.  “I was just overwhelmed with how many dresses were there,” Jackie marveled.

According to Jackie’s mom, her daughter’s battle with cancer had been long and difficult.  In fact, during her treatment, Jackie suffered a stroke.  But Jackie battled back.  “She’s just amazing,” Julie shared.  “She takes it all one day at a time.”  Through hard work and determination, Julie learned to walk again, and was thrilled to be able to try out her dance moves at A Prom to Remember.

Reminiscing after prom, Jackie noted, “Arriving at the Ritz Carlton was just absolutely amazing!  It made me feel like a star when I saw the Cavs and Browns players.  I’ll never forget being out there with all the kids who had cancer, and feeling normal.” she shared.  “Being able to dance…it was a dream come true,” she added.

“Brown Aveda has been a fabulous partner, as well. They’ve been with us since the beginning,” Sumego noted.  “Not only do they provide hair styling and makeup services for attendees at no charge, the salons also serve as drop-off locations to collect new and gently used dresses, shoes and accessories for event-goers as well.  Sumego noted that gentlemen who attend the annual event are fitted for evening wear courtesy of American Commodore Tuxedo, another long-time event partner.

At each event, the guest list is comprised of patients, doctors and nurses from the participating hospitals, giving young attendees a night away from the watchful eyes of caring parents.  Special guests also include celebrity athletes from local sports teams, television personalities, and usually a surprise guest or two.  Last year, attendees and volunteers alike were thrilled to meet Cleveland Indians pitcher Mike Clevinger.

Sumego explained, “Everyone who volunteers gets drawn in.”  Most end up volunteering at the next year’s event, just like she did.  “It speaks a lot to the atmosphere here,” she noted. 

Volunteer opportunities are available with needs ranging from business expertise, time, finances, donation of dresses, accessories, and time.  Student groups have been formed at Mentor High School and Notre Dame Cathedral Latin High Schools to provide opportunities for local teens to help make the event successful for kids their own age.

To learn more about the event and how you might help, click here.  Visit A Prom To Remember Ohio on Facebook, or search for them on Instagram and Twitter. 

Donations may be mailed to A Prom to Remember, 8827 Mentor Avenue, Suite B, Mentor, OH 44060.