You have to picture this: 10 little girls wearing pink and purple tutus, bursting with excitement over the ballet class they're about to have.
You might have thought it was a typical ballet class, if you didn't notice a few things. On one side of the room is a bunch of heaped metal -- walkers, crutches and poles. On the other side are student volunteers, ready to carry the girls over to the dance mats.
This ballet class was for little girls who have cerebral palsy or other debilitating conditions. The woman I was there to interview was one of those people you know is special from the outset -- Joann Ferrara -- a woman with so much energy I smile just thinking about her.
When I arrived, I already knew Joann was a physical therapist who started a ballet school for children with cerebral palsy. I didn't know why. Turns out, a few years ago, Joann began noticing how excited her patients were when she incorporated ballet moves into their therapy. She began talking to the girls, listening to their excited accounts of watching their older sisters' dance classes. She says that's when it hit her: Why not have a ballet class just for them?
Joann is the focus of our weekly Friday "Making a Difference" series. She's a woman with a mission -- to put smiles on her girls' faces. She knew it wasn't going to be easy. Most of the girls can't move. Some can't talk. But they can all smile -- and from 4:45 to 5:45 p.m. yesterday -- I saw some of the biggest grins I had ever seen.
I know you're going to be touched by Joann. She delights in every step these girls take. And I was especially impressed by what she doesn't say -- that the girls love the ballet experience. The dressing up, the ballet slippers, the Swan Lake music, the magic wands. They love being ordinary girls who get an escape from the grind of multiple doctor visits every day.
A special shout out to the group of teens who come every week to help the ballerinas. They play such a vital role in the class. They bend the girls' bodies so they can make pirouettes. They collapse their tiny bodies so the girls can take bows. They pick them up so the girls can jump. And the little girls clearly adore them.
One thing I don't mention in the story tonight: Joann's true dream is to start a non-profit organization so she can add classes and include more children. If you want to help Joann, she says, she'd love to hear from you. Here's her e-mail: email@example.com.
Most importantly, I hope you enjoy the story tonight as much as I enjoyed watching yesterday's class. I guarantee, you've never seen ballerinas like these.