Cinderella dreams can come true

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Sometimes, in a community like this, amazing things happen under the radar. People do selfless acts with zero expectation of publicity, praise or even a "thank you."

It happens more than you could imagine in our pocket of the universe.

That said, allow me tell you a little about Noe Garcia and a chain of people who worked to give this young woman a Cinderella evening.

Noe, a socialite if ever there was one, loves to be told she is beautiful, it's said. With her thick, black hair and luminous smile, it's an easy compliment for the giver. And Noe's delight in being surrounded by admirers adds frosting to the cake.

But not many folks get the chance to compliment her. The 32 year-old Walla Walla native has cerebral palsy and is profoundly retarded.

Lisa Watson runs Alternative Services, the agency that provides around-the-clock care for Noe and her three house mates. She's known Noe for several years.

Noe, she said, "is a particular person in my life that brings joy. She has a beautiful smile … it's almost like her entire body smiles."

While living in a body molded by her physical disorder, Noe - which is short for Noella - has made her desire for beauty clear, despite being unable to talk. To being with, she is "drop dead gorgeous," Lisa explained. "Staff always does her hair up and she loves to get her nails painted."

Margaret Ogilvie agrees. Margaret also helps Noe at "The Place," an agency that provides social interaction and opportunities for community interaction for folks with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Sometimes that means heading for a box store with a group of clients and letting them window shop. Noe, Margaret explained to me, "always likes to look at cosmetics and the pretty dresses. And anything pink and purple."

She remembered that someone once suggested Noe could do some modeling. Margaret, who founded and runs The Place, began adding shape to a hope. Last year she took a picture of her client to Shirley Giarde, proprietor of downtown's Purple Parasol bridal shop.

She could see the young woman was stunning, said Shirley. "They told me her wish was always to be in a fashion or bridal show."

The request came too late for last year's Bridal Fair, but Shirley was ready this year. She had singled out a rose-colored taffeta gown for Noe and chose a tiara for the "princess crown."

Shirley topped that with a shawl and then made a call to Heidi Shumate, owner of Just Roses on Alder Street. Could Heidi donate a corsage for Noe's big moment, Shirley wondered.

She could. A combination of red and pink carnations and a dollop of glittery ribbon was used to create a wrist corsage for the ensemble, at nearly a moment's notice.

Then it was Heather Brown's turn at playing Fairy Godmother. Heather works with Noe at The Place and she understood what a big moment this was. On the day of bridal event, Heather went to Noe's house and acted as chief cosmetologist and hairdresser.

It took a team to get the princess ready, Heather said.

"She was so excited. She heard us come in and she was so happy, she had a big smile. Her staff helped her dress, her aunt was there … it was a group effort."

Noe was a trouper, Heather added.

"She cooperated pretty good, kept her eyes closed when I put on her eyeshadow. She has a such a beautiful face she didn't need much, just some sparkly powder."

And once the entourage arrived at the Marcus Whitman Hotel and Conference Center, the effort was worth it, everyone agrees.

Noe was finally in her element, a beautiful woman among beautiful women. A model for the night, a morsel to feed a hungry dream.

Part of the success came with pre-planning, Shirley told me. "I told my girls, ‘You know people are going to look at her.' I told them it was going to be hard."

That meant staying close and being protective of Noe, but also ready to answer questions people might have. "I didn't want people to just stare at her."

Her models were natural caregivers for the evening, Shirley said, her pride obvious in her voice. "They just doted on her. They loved it."

The dress and tiara are Noe's to keep, Shirley said.

"I hope this will be a memory for her forever."

What Lisa hopes is that the young woman's story will be a memory for the community, she said.

"We want people to experience who Noe is."

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