Fort Mill Times

Patron at Mellow Mushroom paid for Nation Ford special needs students’ prom dinner

David Newman, Sarah Zoeller, Alex Brice and Ben Gillam enjoy dinner at Mellow Mushroom before Prom. An anonymous patron paid for their meal.
David Newman, Sarah Zoeller, Alex Brice and Ben Gillam enjoy dinner at Mellow Mushroom before Prom. An anonymous patron paid for their meal. COURTESY OF DOUG GRANDITS

Nation Ford High School special needs juniors and seniors got an extra special surprise on prom night.

Earlier this month, the students donned their best duds and enjoyed dinner at Rock Hill’s Mellow Mushroom before prom. When the bill came, the waiter informed their teacher, Doug Grandits, that their meals – a $100 tab – was free.

“’This is already covered. Don’t worry about it,’” Grandits said the waiter told him, explaining the check was paid for by an anonymous patron.

Grandits said the gesture restored his “faith in humanity, faith in kindness.”

“It made me feel good inside that there are people out there who would do that,” he said.

The students’ parents chipped in to rent a Suburban and cover dinner. Former teacher Vicki Ball began taking the students to prom together in 2009 and Grandits has continued the tradition.

This was senior David Newman’s second time attending prom.

“We danced to ‘Shake it Off’ at the high school prom,” he said. “My mother went to Publix and bought Sarah a flower.”

Sarah being Sarah Zoeller, the only girl of the group and someone especially close to David. Sarah is nonverbal, but becomes noticeably happy and excited when asked about David.

“They slow danced. It was very sweet,” Grandits said.

Sarah’s mom, Dawn, said that getting Sarah, who she descried as “not a girly girl,” in a dress was a feat and took some coercing.

“Do you want to eat pizza with your friends?” Mom asked. “Yes,” Sarah signed. “Then you have to wear this dress!”

With that, she obliged.

The teachers helped prepare students to attend prom by watching YouTube videos with them about what to expect and talking through the experience, Grandits said. He praised Nation Ford students for creating an environment of inclusion and kindness toward his students not just at prom, but every day. He said many students high-fived his students and “complimented them on how nice they looked.”

“I think what I liked most was how warm and accepting everyone was,” Grandits said.

Paul Zoeller, Sarah’s father, said it had never occurred to him that Sarah might want to go to prom.

“It was exciting to see her do the same thing other kids are doing,” he said.

Grandits and a friend who accompanied Sarah sent mom and dad live updates from prom. “I could tell that (Sarah) was enjoying it,” her dad said. “It meant a lot to her.”

In the weeks since, Mom said Sarah regularly flips through the prom pictures on her phone. “It meant more to her than I would have ever imagined.”

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