Photo by Kathy Jefcoats
Ashley Carr models her perfect dress. Church volunteer Martha Stone had the girls walk the red carpet and pose for photos.
Davanda Jemison wasn’t looking forward to prom season this year.
As a single mom to three kids, Jemison lost her job at J.C. Penney two years ago and has been making ends meet with her commissions as a hairdresser. Her daughter, Destinee Jemison, 18, wondered if the family could afford to buy a dress, typically the most expensive prom item for a girl.
“I would have had to roll a lot of perms to make it happen,” said Davanda Jemison.
At the beauty shop, talk amongst the stylists and customers quickly turned to prom season. That’s when Davanda Jemison found out that First Baptist Church in Lovejoy was collecting dresses to give away to deserving teenage girls. She and her daughter signed up for a fitting Friday night and braved a rainy evening to see what the church had to offer.
Inside the church fellowship hall, members and volunteers transformed the functional but industrial setting into a classy boutique that would be the envy of any Buckhead frou-frou shop. Sorted into sizes, glitzy dresses in all colors hung from racks. On one table, rows of strappy shoes waited to be paired with the perfect dress. On another, were stacks of handbags. On still another, jewelry sets in every shade in the rainbow were spread out for selection.
Along one side of the hall, two volunteer seamstresses worked to make minor alterations as the girls came through. At the back, two Mary Kay cosmetic experts, armed with foundations, powders, mascaras, eye shadows and all manner of brushes, stood ready to give advice and hand out goody bags.
The prom dress ministry is the brainchild of Terri Hardin, wife of the pastor, who called on Martha Stone, director of the Women’s Missionary Union, for help. Together, they put out the word for donations and to the schools for deserving girls. The ministry ended up helping nearly 50 girls get the dress and accessories needed to attend prom.
“We hope to help even more next year,” said Hardin. “I am happy and excited and joyful tonight. We’ve been preparing for this for several months. It’s been hard work but so worth it. It also gives us an opportunity to let the community know we’re here.”
About 25 of the girls to benefit from the ministry are homeless students. Sonia Davis, coordinator of Homeless Education for Clayton County Public Schools, and Jacqueline Evans, also with the program, brought several girls to the church Friday night to be fitted. None of the girls expected to be able to attend prom, said Davis.
“There is no way they would be able to do that,” she said. “Our program funds won’t allow it. But this makes them feel like every other girl.”
Evans and Davis got teary-eyed watching the girls transform into princesses simply by putting on a sparkly evening gown.
“Some of these dresses seem custom-made for these girls,” said Davis. “Like it was ordained, that the dresses were just waiting for them. These girls understand their situations and appreciate everything everyone has done for them.”
Evans said parents outside of the program read about the ministry last month in the Clayton News Daily and suggested the homeless students get involved.
“Every girl I’ve seen has been so excited,” said Evans. “They all just look wonderful. And it is wonderful to see the community excited for them. It takes it up another notch.”
Next, Evans and Davis hope to get either sponsors or cash donations so the girls can get the prom tickets, which can run $75-$80. Anyone interested in sponsoring a girl should contact the Clayton County Board of Education offices.
Destinee Jemison found a turquoise gown and modeled it for her mom.
“I was very emotional,” said Davanda Jemison. “To see her pick that dress that works for her, to see the vision of what she’ll look like that night. She was just beautiful.”
Destinee Jemison said she was thankful for the chance to go to prom.
“This is great, to be able to go and not be stressed about not being able to afford the dress,” she said. “It’s a good thing they’re doing here. I am so thankful for this chance.”
Alicia Carr and her daughter, Ashley Carr, 17, also attended Friday’s fitting.
“I love it, I’ve been really impressed,” said Alicia Carr. “Everyone has been so kind. Without this, we would have had to depend on our family. We would have tried to come together to put something together for her.”
Alicia Carr smiled from ear to ear as Ashley modeled her long, black gown.
“It feels really good to see her looking gorgeous,” she said. “The dress, jewelry and purse, everything just comes together just perfectly. It’s a blessing.”
Vickie McIntyre was one of two Mary Kay cosmetics experts to volunteer to help the girls with make-up. The well-known cosmetics company was founded by a woman and is geared toward to helping and supporting women. during March 8-April 8, employees participate in a company-wide initiative to volunteer 1 million hours of community service.
Assisting the girls with their makeovers was McIntyre’s way of giving back.
“I probably learned more from these girls than they learned from me,” said McIntyre. “Some are in situations that others aren’t used to. All the girls are receptive to the makeover and the compliments but they will also tell you in a second what they like better. It’s a labor of love and I’d do it every year if they asked me.”
Before leaving the makeshift boutique, the girls and their mothers are asked to sign thank you notes to the companies and individuals who made the ministry possible. One wrote, “You made me feel so beautiful.” Another wrote, “I don’t know what I’d do without you. You made me feel so beautiful.” Still another wrote, “You made a tremendous change in my life,” and “You guys are incredible.”
McIntyre was suitably impressed by the outpouring of support given the girls by so many strangers.
“It helps build self-esteem,” she said. “Can you put a price tag on that?”