Night of their lives

first_img“He loves to dance, and I’d take him to the dances in middle school, but he always felt so out of place,” Sam said. “No one ever asked him to dance, and he was too shy to ask. Finally at the last dance, he put his hand in mine after about an hour standing there watching, and said, `Dad, let’s just go home.”‘ Nick was a little more outgoing than his best friend, but it soon became apparent to his parents that he was not getting the academic and social attention he needed to advance. So the boys took their talents to Miller High, a special-education high school in Reseda. “Here, Nick and Ben were part of the student body, rather than just the exception,” Alan said. And their sons are not little boys anymore. They are 22, and at the end of the educational road that school districts must provide special-needs kids. This prom Friday was a big night marking the end of the first chapter of their sons’ lives. Tomorrow would begin another chapter – the future. A scarier one because of all the unknowns. Would they be able to go on and learn trades? Get jobs? Would they ever be independent enough to move out of their parents’ homes and into an apartment together? That was Nick and Ben’s dream, but would it – could it – ever happen? None of them knew for sure. So while Nick and Ben and their prom dates had dinner and danced the night away inside the Pearl Ballroom at the Warner Center Marriott, Sam and his wife, Joyce, and the Heukrodts ate dinner together in P.F. Chang’s restaurant across the street. And waited. The prom started at 6:30 p.m. and the rules said no parents were allowed inside until after 9 p.m. “Did you want your parents at your prom?” Miller teacher Eileen Roseman asked, laughing as she stood outside the Marriott’s front entrance taking pictures of the 24 graduating Miller students as they arrived, a few with dates. She treated them all like royalty. Ben and his date, Stacey Phillips, a developmentally challenged young woman, were already inside when Nick and his date, Ashley Mee, arrived. She was Nick’s dream date. The cute girl from down the street, longtime friends with Nick’s sisters growing up. When Alan and Kathy asked their son who he wanted to take to the prom, there was only one girl he would even consider, Nick told them. The cute girl down the street. No parent wants to see their child heartbroken, so it was with a lot of anxiety that Alan walked Nick over to Ashley’s house last week so his son could ask her. Carrying a big bouquet of flowers, Nick knocked on Ashley’s front door and asked the California State University, Northridge, student to be his date for the prom. “My mom had told me Nick might ask, and at first I was a little skeptical. But a prom is so important and special in all our lives,” Ashley said. “I told Nick of course I would go with him. I’d love to. He gave me a big hug.” Alan swears Nick’s feet never touched the sidewalk on the way home to tell his mom that Ashley had said yes. By 11 p.m. Friday, the Pearl Ballroom was almost empty. Only Nick, Ben and their dates still remained for the last dance of prom night. On the way home, in the back seat of the Wolfsons’ car, Ben and Stacey were arguing over whether they would have one or two children after they were married. Meanwhile, the Heukrodts were back across the street at Chang’s buying their adult son and his 23-year-old date a celebration strawberry margarita before taking them home. All the uncertainties of tomorrow for two pals who have ridden the school bus together since second grade would have to wait. Tonight, they danced. Dennis McCarthy’s column appears Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday. [email protected] (818) 713-3749160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREBasketball roundup: Sierra Canyon, Birmingham set to face off in tournament quarterfinalsFor years, Nick, a Down syndrome child, had been the only special-needs kid in his Calabasas neighborhood. Then Ben, who is autistic, moved in with his family. It was nice to finally have someone from the neighborhood get on that special school bus with him every morning, Nick told his parents, Alan and Kathyrn Heukrodt. “Neither of them were very verbal at that age, but you could tell something clicked between them, and they were becoming close, always wanting to do things together,” said Ben’s dad, Sam Wolfson. The boys went on camping trips with their families together, played on the same sports team, even won a gold medal in basketball together in the Special Olympics. At school they tried to blend in and make friends with the regular students as they got older, but it was tough, particularly for Ben. All the uncertainties of tomorrow would have to wait. Tonight, Nick and Ben would dance. It was their senior prom – the last social stop on a long, sometimes exhilarating, sometimes heartbreaking journey these two best friends have been on since grade school. They met as 8-year-olds on a school bus for special-needs students, riding together to the one classroom that would have them. There were plenty of empty seats on the bus, and Ben Wolfson could have sat anywhere. But he chose to sit next to the boy smiling at him when he got on the bus – Nick Heukrodt. last_img

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