Darby Jones was a dancer. When she moved, her face lit up with the sort of unbridled joy that could take your breath away. She was lots of other things as well, but in her most magical moments, when her light shined the brightest, she was dancing.
Born with Down Syndrome, Leukemia, and a heart defect, Darby faced more challenges than most of us will ever know, but when she was able to move her body with the music, nothing mattered to her except the pure joy of that moment.
From a very early age, Darby showed an affinity for music, even trying her hand at piano lessons after having some success with musical therapy. It soon became clear to her parents that sound and rhythm allowed her to grasp and retain new concepts and skills more readily. Understanding their daughter’s love for music, Darby’s parents tried to enroll her in some of the available dance classes with kids her own age, but it just wasn’t a good fit. At age nine, during her third bout with Leukemia, Darby found the right environment in a dance class for other kids with special needs.
The effect was immediate. Even though she was going through a gauntlet of exhausting treatments, the dance classes made her feel more powerful. Despite the loss of her hair, constant weakness and fatigue, and the need to protect herself from everyday germs, Darby always wanted to go to dance class with her new friends.
“From that day forward, dance was her life,” said Valerie, Darby’s mom. “I think during that difficult time, it was a way for her to feel ‘alive’ and to be like any other kid. She just loved the stage and the spotlight from the very beginning.”
The fascination with dancing, the stage, and the friends that she made wouldn’t be fleeting either. Darby would continue to perform whenever and wherever she could for the next several years. Dance connected her with friends and strangers alike, and she encouraged everyone she met to “be brave like me!”
In early 2013, when she was too sick to leave the hospital to dance in her spring recital, she organized her own performance. With friends from class at her side, she danced for the staff and other patients. That would be Darby’s final show.
When Darby passed away later that year, her parents Valerie and Patrick wanted to find a way to spread the same joy that Darby shared with the world every single day. Knowing that it can be hard to find classes that work effectively with kids with special needs and that the costs involved can be prohibitive, they sought to create a foundation that could make dance readily available to families just like theirs.
Darby’s Dancers was born. Now operating in twenty-four states, the foundation provides weekly dance classes led by professional instructors and volunteer mentors that are free of charge for the families. Dancewear and recital costumes are also included to ensure that no family involved needs to choose between their child’s love of dance and other important expenses.
The foundation now asks all of their new chapters nationwide to have at least one Double Good fundraiser per dance season, which can go a long way towards covering salaries, clothing, shoes, and other various expenses. To date, Darby’s Dancers has raised over thirteen-thousand dollars in support of their mission. It takes a lot of work to keep thousands of kids all over the country dancing, but Patrick and Valerie know that Darby wouldn’t have it any other way.
You can support Darby’s dream when you buy popcorn using code DARBY, and half your purchase will go to Darby’s Dancers and the incredible experiences they provide for kids with special needs 💙