The Princess Ball has become something of a rite of spring in Toronto. Out of the limousines step princess after princess, their gowns only a little less glowing than their smiles. It’s a time for hundreds of little girls to dress up as their favourite princesses and be transported for a day to a land of whimsy.
So you get a mix of Cinderellas, Elsas, Annas, Rapunzels and Ariels together for the time of their lives.
But the ball was borne from tragedy.
In 2012, Jennifer White’s daughter Olivia suddenly got sick.
“She passed away from complications of septicemia,” White said. “It seems as if, at some point in her life, bacteria had entered her blood stream and began chipping away at her immune system. We didn’t know, nobody knew, until she succumbed from what we think was mono. And she passed away on Boxing Day in her sleep.”
Olivia was only five years old at the time — a vibrant and spirited girl who had grown to love princess stories after travelling to Disney World.
The girl’s death sent the White family into a tailspin.
“I had a family that needed me,” Olivia’s mother said. “My husband fell apart in his grief. I had an 18-month-old, I had a mortgage and keep the lights on. And you can’t do that when you’re in a darkened room and not able to get up in the day.”
Three months after Olivia’s death some friends encouraged her to get involved with Make-A-Wish.
It wasn’t long after that the Princess Ball came together.
The idea was to raise money through ticket sales and sponsors while providing a day where select Make-A-Wish kids could forget about their problems.
White believed in the concept but had no way of knowing how it would be received.
The first year they sold 350 tickets. Now in its third year, the demand for the 500-plus seats was so great the event sold out in under a half-an-hour.
“Every time I do something like this, a little piece of me heals,” White said.
“Because I feel Olivia here. Who wouldn’t want to go to a royal ball and be treated like a princess for a day? Olivia would have wanted to and I see her in the faces of all of those children.”
One of those children is six-year-old Marlow Ploughman, who suffers from a rare form of cancer.
“To be here today is amazing because we didn’t know if we would be back this year,” her mother Tanya Boehm said. “Marlow’s cancer came back this fall, for the third time. She finished up radiation in February and March.”
Marlow attended last year’s event and is still talking about it.
She’s a quiet red head and shy around others. But when the actress’ portraying the Disney princesses came around, she wouldn’t stop smiling and even went so far as to venture out onto the dance floor.
“It’s an escape… it’s magic” said Boehm. “Because, as a mother going through this, I never know what occasion is coming or isn’t coming. It’s great to be here. It’s great to have another year with her. And every little day is special.”
White discovered last year she had to be careful what to wear. Her gown too closely resembled those of the princess’ and she had to fend off signature-hungry kids.
But even with her non-princess dress this year, she was as popular as Cinderella and smiled and hugged all those who asked.
“Now I know my mission is not just to raise my own babies,” White said. “It’s to watch these wonderful young children become young women and, hopefully, 20-30 years from now, they’ll remember and say thank you.”
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