Each year, 11-year-old Audrey Soape attended the daddy-daughter dance at her local church in Pflugerville, Texas, with her father — it's the highlight of her year.
But in March of last year, Audrey lost her father in a tragic accident. Just five weeks later, her grandfather, who would have been her stand-in date to the dance, also passed away.
"It was just a very tumultuous time for all of us. Very emotional," Audrey's mother Holly Soape told CBS News. "A lot of grief, a lot of sadness, a lot of anger. So anytime that I have the opportunity to bring joy or excitement into both my children's lives, I absolutely jump at that moment."
She wanted to make sure her daughter still got to attend the dance with her friends — so she started brainstorming different options.
"I knew with the dance coming up it would be an emotional thing. It would be a disappointing thing not being able to go. She brought it up a few times, saying she wished she could go," Soape said. "She even at one point asked if I would escort her to the dance. I knew that if she was going to go, that I wanted it to be something really incredible. Something that would just make her feel special and would make her feel loved and important. So I tried to think of the coolest thing that I could come up with."
And she had a very cool idea: Anthony Harris, a Philadelphia Eagles football player who's been a favorite of the family's.
"I knew it was a long-shot. I didn't really expect him to say yes," Soape said. "I was shocked and overjoyed when he said that he was going to do it."
Harris has been the family's favorite NFL player for years and Holly Soape had been corresponding with him periodically over Instagram since March 2020. Every few months, she would write to him to check in and to her delight, he would respond.
"I would send him encouragements and prayers before big games and during transitions of his career. So, we kind of had that connection through social media, but we'd never met him," she said.
Soape also sent him a message the day after her husband died, hoping he would send back a word of condolence. Harris, who was raised by a single mother, wanted to return the support Soape had given him over the years.
When the football season was over for the Eagles in mid-January, Harris told Soape that he would fly to Texas from Florida, where he lives in the off-season, to take Audrey to the father-daughter dance.
"I was like super surprised. Like, more than I can explain surprised. And I was also like, really nervous," Audrey said. "Probably more nervous than excited at the beginning, because I didn't know what I was going to say or do around him."
Harris also bought Audrey a brand-new dress and shoes to wear at the dance, and he arranged for her to get her hair and makeup done before the event.
"As the night went on and time passed by, he felt more like my friend, and I could talk to him and open up to him more," Audrey said.
Holly Soape volunteered to chaperone at the event so that she could be part of it too. She said Harris did everything he could to help Audrey feel comfortable and enjoy the night.
"He started engaging in conversations with her, like asking how her day was, asking about her dad, sort of making her laugh, and got her out on the dance floor. As the night progressed he really went out of his way to just make sure she felt special, that she felt comfortable and that she was having a good time," Soape recalls.
"I think even days after, we were still sort of reeling from it. Like I would flip through the pictures I was like, 'That actually happened. Like, he really came,'" she said. "They really had a great time. And just seeing the smile on her face, it was just incredible."
Even though it was a difficult year for the Soape family, Audrey got to build some happy memories at the father-daughter dance due to Harris' kindness.
"It really kind of just changed the dialogue of the whole year. It was just this horrible, dark year that ended on this really, really positive note. And so it sort of gave us a little bit of joy and light at the end of a very dark tunnel. It was just a magical experience for everybody," Soape said.
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