Durham, N.C. — Naomi Sjostedt-Smith of Durham was called a champion for those with disabilities.
A medical condition kept her from dancing at her high school prom. But she wore a dress and hit the dance floor years later at a gala she created for others like her.
The founder of the “Dance Like No One is Watching Gala,” who battled with Cushing syndrome and needed a double-lung transplant, passed away earlier this month. But family and friends say Sjostedt-Smith’s legacy lives on.
“It was originally going to be in our backyard for 10 kids, and then WRAL got involved and we had 420 our first year,” her husband, Jeff Smith said.
Sjostedt-Smith contacted WRAL News in 2011 when she came up with the idea to host a prom for children with conditions that keep them from attending or feeling comfortable at a school dance.
Her story inspired others, including Keith Wilder of the Raleigh Professional Firefighters Association, to join in and help the first gala come to life.
“Every great cause has a great champion, but every great champion needs to be recognized for how they've impacted the lives of others,” Wilder said. “This is the only way I know how to do that.”
Sjostedt-Smith organized two successful galas and was almost done planning this year's June event when she died in her sleep April 9.
"It was originally going to be in our backyard for 10 kids, and then WRAL got involved, and we had 420 our first year," her husband said.
Smith said his wife suffered a lot in her life, yet she found joy in helping others.
“I know she would want me to keep going, and I know I will, but I have no idea how,” Smith said.
Added Wilder: “We all own a piece of this event, and the best way we can honor Naomi is by continuing to serve others by continuing to have this event annually.”
This year's prom is planned for June 27 at the Wake Chapel Baptist Church.