By Janis Kruger
The only thing missing at Oxford High School to complete a TLC-worthy weekend on March 2 was a camera crew. High school-aged girls came to Oxford from many surrounding counties to find their perfect prom dresses and have their own “Say Yes to the Dress” moments.
The Oxford High School gym was lined with racks and racks of every special occasion dress imaginable. There was a selection of over 400 short dresses, long dresses, beaded dresses, and ruffled dresses filled with rhinestones ranging from size 0 to size 22. Tables along the walls were filled with varieties of shoes and jewelry to complete the perfect look. Young ladies truly got a salon-worthy experience for their big day but had the opportunity to skip the price tag.
Rose Hickey is Oxford High School girls’ personal fitness teacher and head coordinator of the event. Four years ago, some students were in her office discussing what to do with their prom dresses from previous years. During this conversation, Hickey remembered talking to other students who were having the opposite problem; they were choosing not to attend prom because the hefty price tag for dresses was not an option for them. When Hickey brought this up to the students in her office, they quickly formulated how they could give their peers their dresses, and “Say Yes to the Dress: Prom Edition” was born.
Over the years, donations from the Oxford community have flooded in, and the program has grown rapidly. Everything from the dresses, to the storage unit, to the jewelry, to the racks have been donated by parents, local businesses, and Oxford residents.
Volunteers continued to comment about how the event has grown so much that it had to move from Hickey small workout studio to the high school gym this year to accommodate all of the dresses.
Last Saturday morning, girls were able to come into the gym, choose from the numerous dresses, try as many as they wanted on, stand on a pedestal, and look into a series of large mirrors until they felt that they had found the one.
They then gave their contact information to the registrar and took their dresses home. Students didn’t just come for prom, though; the young ladies were also getting dresses for military balls, pageants, and formals. “I don’t discriminate with it at all; anyone can come and get a dress,” Hickey said.
Stephanie Gunderson, a close friend of Hickey’s, was at the event dress shopping with her daughter. As she held a completely bedazzled pink gown she said, “I have a daughter who likes to do pageants and go to dances…[stores] and budgets in Oxford are very limited on where you can find a dress. We jumped as soon as we cold when we heard about it because Rose does amazing things for all the girls in the community.”
Gunderson said that she has seen the program grow over the years. She mentioned that there were probably about a third of the dresses that they have now when the event first started.
“More and more girls are getting more comfortable coming here,” she said. “Anyone can come get a dress, and I love that because we’re showing as a community that we can help other people…and boost their confidence,” Gunderson continued.
Madison Hickey, the event coordinator’s daughter, has seen the program grow from the ground up. She said, “We don’t have a lot of dress stores around here. It’s convenient to come here and help them find a dress. It makes it a lot easier on [the parents], and to see their girls happy and be able to go to prom—that’s kind of what a mom dreams of.” She hopes that the program is able to open up to even more schools to get more girls involved. Madison said that her mother’s hard work does not go unnoticed and that she is inspired by the things that Hickey has been able to accomplish, “It is something hopefully that I plan to carry on if I move out of Oxford…it’s a great way to give back to a community that does so much for us.”
After the final “yes” of the day had been declared, Kelley Mahan, who came to help her sister-in-law find a dress, sat down and breathed a sigh of relief. She had never come to the event, before but heard about it through Facebook.
“My sister-in-law needed a prom dress. She was going to buy one, and I told her to wait and that they were having this event today, and to see if she could find one here before she actually went and bought one.” Mahan’s in-law was able to walk out of Oxford High School with the dress of her dreams and excited about her upcoming event.
Say Yes to the Dress: Prom Edition has helped countless girls attend prom in its short life span, and Rose Hickey said she hopes it continues to grow. Even though the dresses have been packed away until next year, the stories that will be written for the attendees are just beginning. Hickey said, “Last year we helped 76 go to prom; I hope to help send 176 [one day].”