SPRINGFIELD — Years ago, Zeph Boand promised Sarah Jones he'd dance with her at prom.
On a recent Friday, he traveled eight hours for that dance.
Prom had to come early for Sarah, a 12-year-old who is starting hospice.
Zeph, family, friends and complete strangers came together to organize a bash for a girl they've said is a blessing.
Like any proper prom, there was a disco ball, a DJ, rhinestone shoes and ruffled dresses, cake, purple and silver balloons, and on the tables there were bowls of live goldfish to symbolize something Zeph said: "Of all the fish in the sea, I chose you to dance with me."
At the end of the night, Zeph, dressed in a tuxedo, lifted Sarah out of her wheelchair and as he cradled her in his arms, they danced to Lee Ann Womack's "I Hope You Dance."
Sandra Fuller, Sarah's mom, gushed with gratefulness to those who made this a reality.
"I want to tell these people thank you. They have been a blessing," Saundra Fuller said.
The general manager at the University Plaza Hotel and Convention Center stepped in and offered the room. Schaffitzel's Flowers and Greenhouses gave flowers. Catering Creations volunteered to provide food, and the co-owner's daughter left a Bible for Sarah on the table. Leslie Davis, an employee at Hair FX in Nixa, volunteered to do Sarah's hair.
At the salon, when Davis was finished with Sarah's hair, Davis held up a mirror to Sarah and she broke out in a huge smile.
"Thank you," she said.
Throughout the night, Sarah kept saying, "I look beautiful."
Sarah was born 15 weeks premature and with cerebral palsy, a general term for various neurological disorders that permanently affect body movement and muscle coordination.
She had a twin sister who died shortly after birth.
Sarah has struggled with health problems all her life including severe scoliosis, a curvature of the spine; arthritis, dislocated hips, muscle spasticity, numerous surgeries, and three months ago, they discovered she has a chronic lung disorder.
"She'll say 'Mama, my body don't work.' And I say, 'I know, but when you get to heaven, you will have a whole new complete body. You won't have to worry about your hips hurting,'" Sandra Fuller said.
Life with Sarah has been a journey and an inspiration, Saundra Fuller said.
"The fact she can wake up and have a smile on her face and her breathing is not real good, her hips are out of socket, her back is not real good, but that kid always has a smile on her face," Saundra Fuller said. "She has shown me patience. She has shown me in times of struggles like this, everything will turn out OK."
Sarah has been out of school for three years and had round-the-clock in-home nursing care for two of those years.
You'd never know she was sick from her personality, Zeph said.
"She is always saying something funny, making people laugh. Once she knows she has made someone laugh, she keeps going," he said.
Sarah loves music, cookies and Elmo.
Susan Raper, a special education teacher in Ozark, has worked with Sarah for six years. Sarah calls her "Suey." Raper said Sarah has a mischievous side and a great sense of humor.
Sarah is incredibly social, Raper said.
"Just real eager to make friends and be around people. She loves being around people," Raper said.
She loves "smoochin'," said her grandma, Darlene Moffitt.
From all accounts, Sarah has a feisty spirit and is a determined child.
"She has made great strides. She's just a dear," said Clyde Parsons, her orthopedic surgeon, who brought Sarah a stuffed cat when he came to prom. He laid it on her and she tilted her head and kissed his hand.
Sarah's older sister Shyanne said she looks up to her baby sister.
It wasn't always that way.
When Shyanne was younger, she was embarrassed to have a special-needs sister. One day in Walmart, Sandra kept asking Shyanne to push Sarah's wheelchair, but Shyanne didn't want to.
A complete stranger noticed and walked up to Shyanne and said: "Don't be embarrassed, be grateful," Shyanne said.
It was a moment that changed her life. She realized that Sarah is a gift.
Now, Shyanne has "a heart for" special-needs children.
"She (Sarah) taught me not to look down on people," Shyanne said. "She made me the person I am today."
Sarah was so excited for her prom she couldn't sleep the night before, said Sherry Davis, one of Sarah's in-home nurses.
"I kept saying you have a big day tomorrow, you have to get some sleep," Davis said.
This means so much to her because it's all about Sarah, Shyanne said.
"It's not focused on me or Shealynn (a younger sister). Everyone is here for her because they love her," Shyanne said.
Purple, her favorite color, was the theme. There was a big purple and white cake that read: "We love you Sarah."
Zeph and his mom decorated her wheelchair with purple and pink chiffon, gold ribbon and a purple boa.
When the song "YMCA" came on, the dance floor was crowded and Sarah bopped her head back and forth and laughed with joy.
While the family was excited so many people took part, guests said they were the lucky ones.
Holly Rogers, a nurse at Cox South pediatrics who has known Sarah most of her life, said it was an honor to be invited.
And Zeph, the 15-year-old lifelong friend who came down from Indiana to dance with Sarah, had a surprise in store for her. He'd been practicing on his guitar and planned to serenade her.
Sarah's wheelchair was moved onto the dance floor, her mom knelt at her side and Shealynn held her hand as Zeph sang Green Day's "Time of Your Life."
"This is for Sarah," Zeph said before he began.
Sarah squealed with delight.
Every day with Sarah is one to cherish, her stepfather, Ben Fuller said.
"When you think you've had a bad day, like her grandpa said, take a walk in Sarah's shoes," he said.
Sarah is "a warrior," Darlene Moffitt said.
She was 8 years-old before she was able to say "Gamma."
"That is a long time to wait to hear your grandchild say grandma. It was such a moment," Darlene Moffitt said, as she blinked back tears and took a deep breath.
People who don't know Sarah are often rude and cruel, her grandma said.
Darlene Moffitt wants people to know her granddaughter is just like everyone else's granddaughter.
"She's a little girl that loves. She's a little girl with feelings. She is full of energy. She can get mad and she can love you to death," Darlene Moffitt said.
Grandpa Ray Moffitt, a masculine broad-shouldered cowboy, is clearly a softie when it comes to his granddaughter.
"We wouldn't trade her for nothin'," he said, as he rested his chin in his right hand.
"No siree," echoed Darlene Moffitt.