Athletic banquets, academic award ceremonies, sporting events, holiday parties, dances: These celebrations are just a few of the classic high school events COVID-19 ripped away from many teenagers. Fortunately, several high schools across Ellis and Johnson counties were still able to hold the timeless, magical event of prom thanks to IMPACT Communities and REACH Council.

REACH Council of Ellis and Johnson County seeks to educate families and students on how to make good choices, including those involving drinking and drug prevention. The nonprofit also provides presentations to the community as well as works with schools to enhance awareness about the effects of drugs and alcohol.

Since many of the organization’s in-person events could not be executed this last year due to government-mandated safety orders, the members were limited on what outreach they could provide.

One of its biggest events, Buzzfree PROMises, allows students to participate in games and various programs as well as providing free dresses and suits. Parents are invited to attend the program. With COVID-19, they couldn’t hold such a massive event at one place though.

Since the schools couldn’t come to the event, REACH Council community liaison Shari Phillips decided to bring the event to the schools. The organization partnered with Recovery Resources out of Dallas, which housed the dresses and suits to take to the schools.  

“It was the only way that many students were able to participate in prom this year,” Phillips said.

Ferris, Red Oak, and Waxahachie Global High schools were just a few of the schools the program aided, while Johnson County held a two-day event for Buzz-free PROMises. Two hundred sixty students across the schools “shopped” for formal attire and received a goodie bag with a fidget toy, fingernail file, candy, and educational pamphlets about having fun without using drugs or alcohol.

A number of students with special needs also participated in the program, fulfilling a purpose of reaching youth of all backgrounds.

The majority of the dresses and suits were brand-new and wrapped to prevent weathering and damage on the drive to the schools. This way, the teens were able to pick out dresses with dignity – and not just accept ones they didn’t want.

Red Oak counselor and IMPACT Street Team co-sponsor Andrea Jones was one of the leaders who supported some of the girls while they tried on their dresses.

[The students] felt robbed of so many things this year,” Jones said, “so this was a really positive event.”

Jones was present for Camry Shedd, a 17-year-old incoming senior at Red Oak High School, while she picked out a dress for her ROTC Military Ball. The event was exciting and rewarding for the IMPACT members, she said, who were able to watch the students’ dreams come to life, especially when they weren’t sure there would even be any formal events.

Camry’s mother, Renee Brown, was present for her daughter’s dress fitting. She took photos of her twirling in her elegant royal-blue gown, which she noted was Camry’s favorite color. Brown even found a silver mask to compliment the shimmering buttons on her dress.

“Oh my gosh,” 17-year-old Camry Shedd exclaimed, mesmerized by her formal. “I think I look like a princess!”

Brown was more excited than she was, and happy Shedd found something she loved.

Unfortunately, Buzzfree PROMises no longer has the grant that budgets for the U-haul, climate-controlling the formal attire, and traveling from school to school. Phillips is hoping the organization receives a donation or acquiresa outside funding to keep the program alive. If able to commence next prom season, even more people could be reached due to less restrictions.

“We plan to have it again next year, expanded,” Jones said, “probably Ellis County-wide.”

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