HUNTSVILLE, Ala -- Four years ago, fourteen-year-old Darby Jones lost her brave battle with leukemia. But not before she spent her entire life as a dancing light for her family, friends, and many others here in Huntsville.
Darby Jones was born with leukemia and specials needs, something she lived with all her life, without complaint. But it didn't stop her from living a life full of love, laughter, and dancing. Her parents wanted to do something to honor Darby's memory, and that's how the non-profit Darby's Dancers was born.
"She began her dance career here in Huntsville at Merrimack Hall Performing Arts Center, and she just loved that. We felt like the thing that she would really want for us to carry on for her was that dancing," explained Valerie Jones, Darby's mom.
Valerie has since established Darby's Dancers programs in 23 cities and 18 states, from Maine to California. Her goal is to have one in all 50 states, and next on her list is right here at home.
"I've just been so busy with all of the other states, and many people ask me do you have one in Alabama and I'm sort of embarrassed to say no. So we really do have to get going on that," she said.
Valerie and her husband Patrick believe that all children should have a chance to participate in the performing arts, regardless of their limitations.
"It's once a week free classes, recitals, leotards, tights, for children with special needs," he explained. The programs are at no cost to parents. The dance space and instructors are donated by the studios, and high school students volunteer to partner up with and mentor each student.
Patrick Jones said Darby's Dancers is important to him because it provides opportunities for these kids they otherwise might not get.
"If you're going to have medical expenses paid or dance classes, you're going to cut out the dance class. So this enables the children to have just a joyful, fun time, and I get great satisfaction out of seeing that," he said.
Above all, Valerie wants people to understand that children with special needs, are just children.
"Please just give them an opportunity to fit in and belong, and be a part of a dance group, or any group, Whatever it is, that was certainly Darby's desire, she loved everyone."
The Jones's hope that Darby's legacy with Darby's Dancers will continue for years to come. "I hope that yes, even long after Patrick and I are gone, that Darby will dance forever," said Valerie.
If you are a dance studio in North Alabama, the state of Alabama, or any other state, interested in starting a Darby's Dancers program you can start that process by clicking here.
And if you are interested in donating to Darby's Dancers, or learning more about it, you can visit their website here.