DALLAS — Wednesday morning, while most of us were complaining about the miserable, dark, and dreary weather in north Texas, a group of young men were basking in the spotlight of one very bright and amazing day.
Ten young men, all of them with intellectual and learning disabilities like autism or cerebral palsy, were donning their very first tailored suits, stylish hats and pocket squares with splashes of color backstage at the auditorium of Thomas Jefferson High School.
"Yeah I'm actually kind of excited but I'm a little bit nervous at the same time," TJ student Jonathan Olvera said. He was nervous because this time, the Suit Up Experience, which began four years ago with the help of the Heroes Foundation and the Mark Cuban Heroes Basketball Center to give young men suits, grooming, wardrobe styling and life skills programs, would also include a fashion show.
"I don't know what happened. This was a simple idea: 'Hey, let's get these kids some suits,'" Thomas Jefferson special education teacher Thomas Atkins told the auditorium audience of teachers, students and parents. "Now look at all of this. This is amazing."
The simple idea was a fashion show with the young men dressed at their best, walking on stage arm-in-arm with an equally well-dressed female student and an audience to cheer from them.
"It's just giving them a chance to be in the spotlight," Atkins said. "I want them to have this chance, for this to be their day."
It was a great day for students like Jordan Negrete. He has autism and doesn't talk much. But his mom says this means more than any of us could understand.
"And I couldn't be happier that he had this opportunity to shine," Sherrie Negrete said. "And today he shined like a shining star and I was so proud of him."
The other goal is to give these young men pride in themselves.
"You feel good and you feel like happy about yourself that you look good and everything," Olvera said.
"What really touches me is seeing my kids and they're having such a good time and they're so happy right now," Atkins said. "We've got the basketball players, the football players, the cheerleaders, the dance team. Now we have our boys and their fashion show. They're loving the suits, they're loving the attention. They don't get a lot of this. And I'm so proud of them. They have done so well."
So while the rest of us complained about the weather, the young men of Thomas Jefferson High School enjoyed one very bright shining day in the spotlight.
"I love all of you very much," Atkins told his students as they gathered for a celebratory group hug. "I am so happy to be here with you on this amazing day."
Regardless of the weather, a bright and shining amazing day.
Last year was the first time the program expanded to meet the unique needs of young men with physical, emotional, behavioral, or learning disabilities or impairments. Lombardo’s Custom Apparel, which provided the clothing, has added extra enhancements like Velcro pants fasteners to make dressing easier for disabled and wheel-chair bound students.
To date, a total of nearly 2,200 young men have received suits and other assistance thanks to Concord Church, Williams Barber College, the Mavs Foundation, Lombardo’s Custom Apparel and individual donors.