PARMA, Ohio – A Hollywood story with a Hollywood ending starring a Hollywood star is exactly the tale against the odds that unfolded last week in Parma.
Six weeks after the Parma City School District’s PACTS (Parma Area Center for Transition Services) program released an original video invitation asking Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to attend their April 29 spring luau and dance in Parma High School, the “Moana” star came by.
Even though he was unable to appear in person, the box office raffle sent up a heartwarming video that completely surprised the 473 entrants.
PACTS provides vocational and life skills training to students who have multiple disabilities.
The surreal experience began more than a week ago when PACTS intervention specialist Marie Santiago received a phone call from Johnson’s office.
“The Rock’s executive director called to say, ‘DJ loved the video and even though we can’t be there, we have things in store that we’d like to talk to you about,'” Santiago said. Said I had to call them back because I couldn’t take that call without Katie and Erin.”
Katie and Erin are her fellow PACTS Intervention Specialists, Katie Vento and Erin Austin.
“That’s when I ran through the school…looking for them,” Santiago laughed. “We couldn’t believe we got a phone call and DJ loved the video. People probably thought the school was on fire.
After finding his cohorts and calming down slightly, the teachers spoke to Johnson’s folks, who said they wanted to film the entire event, including the reveal of the special video featuring Johnson.
“We kept it a secret even for our students,” Santiago said. “Only five people knew about it. We wanted everyone to be surprised and really enjoy the moment.
After keeping a cool head during the week, the intervention specialists released the video of the students’ invitation to the prom.
“Afterwards we said, ‘OK, let’s get back to the dance,'” Santiago said. “Then we were like, ‘Wait, what is this? We played The Rock’s video message and you could feel the lightning going through the gym.
“They were shocked at first. They were really quiet. Once they realized that, that’s when things exploded. The rest of the dance was just electrical energy.
Vento added: “You could tell when people were leaving it was the time of their lives. Just seeing children’s faces is just something you don’t see every day. To be able to give them that, to be part of that, it’s so special.
Once news of The Rock’s video broke, social media spread the story.
Perhaps the icing on the cake of this incredible story was The Rock’s own tweet: “When I received their video, there was no way I wouldn’t send one back. They are good, good-hearted kids doing great work for other good, good-hearted kids.
Therein lies the lesson for PACT intervention specialists.
“DJ is so authentic,” Austin said. “You don’t hear a single bad thing about him, because there isn’t. He’s just a genuine human being. You cannot recreate this.
Santiago added, “We just want to show a lot of gratitude to Duane Johnson for using his time and energy to shine a light on how important this event is to our students and the community.
“Our students work really hard, but honestly they don’t get the kind of limelight that a lot of our other populations get.
“We just really want to express our gratitude to him. It means a lot that he and his amazing team went above and beyond what we expected.
Read more news from the Parma Sun Post.