By Christine Valdez
Web Production Assistant
Prom is an important part of many high school students’ lives, but some have trouble affording the event. Some Jersey Shore students affected by Hurricane Sandy were able to go to prom and create their high school memories thanks to New York Giants punter Steve Weatherford.
When Hurricane Sandy made landfall on the Jersey Shore not only did it damage property, but it also wreaked havoc on the lives of residents. Since that October in 2012, the recovery efforts have been underway, but for some students their chance at prom slimmed after Sandy. After witnessing some of the damage from the storm, Weatherford wanted students to have the chance to have one of the most memorable moments of their high school years — their senior prom.
After witnessing some charities help out the effected areas, Weatherford says that he was inspired to start the initiative of Project Prom in order to help create life experiences.
“I saw so many charities replacing tangible items for the families affected by Hurricane Sandy but you give these items to people replacing what they lost,” said Weatherford. “There wasn’t charities that were replacing life experiences that these kids were missing out on and for me an experience and a memory lasts much longer than clothes, house and a car.”
In order to create memories that would last a lifetime, Weatherford created Project Prom, a program that he believes will help create memories for high school seniors. The program allows students to attend their prom when circumstances and expenses won’t allow it. For students in Long Beach Island, a town that had been devastated by Sandy, the opportunity to attend their senior prom became a reality.
According to Weatherford, South Regional High School in Long Beach Island was selected as the first school to participate in Project Prom. Students at South Regional had the chance to have all expenses paid for by Project Prom. In order to be selected, students need to be nominated by their peers and submit essays explaining why they deserve to go to their prom.
When it came down to the selection process, Weatherford said that he didn’t want to take part in it because he would have wanted to pay for every student.
“I didn’t want to be a part of the selection process because I have a problem telling people no,” Weatherford said. “If it would have been up to me, I would have paid for every kid that couldn’t afford to go, but that just wasn’t feasible.”After all of the nominations and essays were submitted, according to Weatherford, about 20 high school seniors were selected as the winners and were the first students to benefit from Project Prom.
Along with being selected for Project Prom, students received their outfits — whether it was dresses or tuxedos — hair, nails, makeup, prom tickets and limo.
Originally Weatherford said that he wanted surprise the winners by making the announcement himself at the school in an assembly, but his commitments with the New York Giants and the commute to Long Beach Island prohibited him from announcing it himself. Although he didn’t get to make the announcement of the winners as he would have liked to, Weatherford said that his absence made the occasion much more special since the students didn’t get to meet him beforehand.
“I kind of think it made it a little more special for them not getting to meet me until prom came about,” Weatherford said.
On the morning of the prom June 7, Weatherford surprised some of the students at a hair salon while they were preparing as part of their prize for being selected. Many of the girls that were there did not expect to see him at the salon.
“They had no idea that I was going to show up there so that was a lot of fun to see their faces light up when I walked through the door,” said Weatherford.
During the prom, Weatherford said that he got to interact with all of the Project Prom winners and took pictures with every single one. While talking to the students, Weatherford said that in one of his conversations, a student by the name of Larissa Rossi expressed her gratitude and how thankful she was for the opportunity. Following the event, Rossi sent Weatherford a thank you card and he has spoken to her since through his social media platforms.
“It was just a lot of fun because being in the situation that I am as a professional athlete and having kids, that they’re not that much younger than I am,” Weatherford said. “Some of those kids are 18 years old and I’m 31. So I’m only 13 years removed from being in the same shoes that they are. I remember it like it was yesterday, so it was fun, it was exciting, it was humbling.”
Weatherford described the first Project Prom as a smashing success and said that he would not have changed anything about it.
“It was absolutely a dream come true for me and I think it was for them as well,” said Weatherford.Following the success of the first Project Prom, Weatherford says that he would like to continue the program and possibly expand to other schools throughout New Jersey. After seeing some of Weatherford’s experiences with Project Prom and pictures with the students on his social media sites, some of his teammates have expressed the desire to help out and contribute to future Project Proms.
Weatherford wants to include his teammates for future Project Proms and expand it. Along with expanding, Weatherford wants to reach out to students that can grow from the life experience and don’t have to be affected by anything such as natural disasters to be considered for Project Prom.
“My vision for Project Prom is to make it grow and select more than just people who can’t afford to go to prom because of a natural disaster. I want it to grow into something statewide and I want to have five, six maybe even 10 schools involved next year,” said Weatherford.
Weatherford wants to continue to help people.
“I think the beautiful part about it is that I’m able to help people and give them an experience they wouldn’t otherwise have,” said Weatherford.